Why DIY Online Legal Form Services Cannot Replace Hiring a Lawyer
You have no doubt seen advertisements for DIY online legal form services. They promise the resources you need to draft a will, appoint a power of attorney, incorporate a business or even get a divorce — all online, no legal consultation necessary.
However, despite charging significant fees, these services often fail to give you the legal protections you need. Since they are not attorneys or law firms, they are forbidden to give legal advice. You are on your own, and potentially taking a great risk with your business or your estate.
The money you think that you are saving by using a DIY online legal form service is insignificant compared to the legal costs of having to address any defects or omitted provisions after the fact.
Your Business and Family are worth it. Don’t you agree?
An attorney does much more than fill out forms on your behalf. They issue spot and evaluate risk. They ask follow-up questions and they do not assume facts. A good lawyer can anticipate future issues with your business growth or estate plan and give you tools to plan accordingly. Before you use a DIY online legal form, consider the benefits of consulting with an attorney.
Comparing DIY Online Legal Form Services and hiring a Lawyer
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Legal Zoom vs. hiring a lawyer
We are not here to bash LegalZoom. We agree that they do have a place in the world. If you understand the law inside and out and know all of your legal options and strategies, then legal zoom is an excellent place to obtain a pre-drafted form. The problem arises if you decide to alter that form to fit your specific needs, or if you are like most non-attorneys, and don’t understand the law inside and out, and can’t analyze the risk associated with your decisions.
Here is the disclaimer that we pulled from LegalZoom’s website on 1/7/2017.
They are transparent about not giving any advice or opinion on selecting the proper legal forms or strategies, and are thus not liable for any legal troubles that arise due to you making the wrong decision. If you do decide to use LegalZoom for its legal forms it would be very wise to use their attorney advice service as well.
Using a DIY online legal form through legal zoom is akin to flying an airplane from San Diego to New York. Sure you may have the tools to do it, but without the experience of a professional to use those tools, the end result will likely not be good.
Using a DIY Online Legal Form Service for your Estate Plan
You may think your estate plan is entirely up to you. In fact, state law will dictate how your assets are distributed upon death. If you want to avoid complications for your heirs, you may have to take specific steps not addressed in a do-it-yourself will kit. Even if the online services has the options to cover your wishes, would you be able to identify those options and put them into place in a manner in which the probate court would approve of?
While it’s true you can handle some things yourself, only a lawyer can review your estate plan with an objective eye. Lawyers ensure your documents are drafted correctly and hold up in the event of a dispute. This is essential even when you perceive your estate to be simple. Your best intentions to write a clear and concise will, for example, might turn out to be vague and open to interpretation when the time comes to distribute your assets.
Lawyers spot unseen issues and are proactive
Because of training and experience, a lawyer identifies problems that you may not see. Choosing to leave all of your assets to your spouse, for example, may cause conflict within the family, especially if you have children from a prior relationship. Your chosen trustee may not want to serve, resulting in a court-appointed representative if you fail to name an alternate. Spotting these issues is central to the work of an attorney, but entirely missing from a do-it-yourself legal services site.
Spotting these issues is central to the work of an attorney, but entirely missing from an online DIY legal form services site.
Lawyers also provide options, even if you perceive your end-of-life planning to be simple. Estate planning is not just about money. You can anticipate and plan for your emergency medical care and outline how you want to spend your final years. These issues can be addressed in a confidential, sensitive and practical manner with a lawyer.
Your Business Needs Ongoing Advice
Only a lawyer can explain the consequences of certain legal actions, such as incorporating a business. It may appear simple enough, but choosing to incorporate fundamentally changes the structure of your business. State reporting requirements kick in. Your relationship with business partners changes and you may have to create shareholder agreements, operating agreements, and register securities.
Laws regularly change, a lawyer will keep you updated
While some of these agreements are created only once, most businesses require long-term management from a legal perspective. Business owners who fail to meet reporting requirements may be subject to hefty fines that affect their bottom line. Agreements require regular review and potential revision as the business expands and the laws change.
Lawyers help owners comply with state and federal regulations. They also provide crucial advice and services in the event of a conflict between partners, a sale or merger, or personnel changes within the corporation. Most importantly, a business lawyer has experienced common disputes based upon the industry that you are in. Your business lawyer will specifically add provisions to avoid those disputes or to resolve those disputes outside of court.
Increasingly, businesses are subject to scrutiny not only by regulatory bodies but conscious consumers. A messy fight between partners or a fallout over management of the company, which might have been avoided with a strong partnership agreement, can filter through the company and ultimately affect customer satisfaction.
Corporations are subject to public scrutiny to ensure they are good corporate citizens. If they fail to be transparent they may also lose consumer trust, affecting the success of their business. Consulting early with a lawyer can help prevent business owners from failing to meet their compliance obligations and ensure proper management of inevitable transitions as the business grows and changes over time.
You Cannot Always Trust DIY Online Legal Form services
One serious failing of many do-it-yourself legal services is the inaccuracy of the documents. The forms may not be standard or could otherwise fail to meet technical requirements of your state court system. Sometimes, they may be out of date or contain errors. This may make your task even more difficult if a county clerk won’t accept the documents you submit.
You may even have to pay for forms that are available for free through government agencies.
It is the case that “buyer beware” applies to DIY online legal form services, especially since many contain clauses that limit your recourse in case things go wrong. Often, you can’t sue a DIY legal service if things don’t go as planned.
When it comes to your family’s future or your business, don’t take any chances. Discuss your options with an attorney and develop a long-term relationship with a trusted advisor for the benefit of your loved ones and your company.