Are online estate planning documents legal?

4 answers | Last updated: Nov 27, 2016
Grandmamom21 asked...

My husband and I don't have a will or a document indicating our wishes if we develop health problems. Where can we purchase a living trust online that will be legal?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

First, be aware that your question concerned several different types of documents: a will, a healthcare directive, and a living trust. Complete estate plans often include all of them, but they are different things. Wills and living trusts allow you to direct how your property should be divided and distributed at your death. You can specify the type of medical care you want provided or withheld in an advance directive for healthcare or a power of attorney for healthcare.

Second, in the interest of full disclosure, I must divulge that I am one of the authors of such a product. I do not divulge this to push it, however -- only to let you to warn you from the inside out that there are a couple things to bear in mind so that you can shop around in an informed way.

When casting about for a product you can trust to produce a valid will, advance directive, or living trust, be sure that it produces documents that are keyed in to the particulars of your state law -- not just a template that claims to fit all with one size.

Also, check with the publisher to be sure that the product is updated frequently -- at least annually -- as the laws that control these documents change fairly frequently.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

Estate planning documents are like parachutes. You really truly never know whether they will work or not until it is too late to replace them. Your estate is your's, no one else's. How well or how poorly you choose to protect it is your business. Spending a few hundred dollars on documents and advice that you can rely on is sound stewardship. You will be fully informed of your options and you will know what every clause means. While online documents may be valid technically, they will never accomplish everything you could with expert advice and guidance.

Lorxena answered...

Familiarize yourself with the documents available online and check out information at the library on the subject. Become more informed on the subject so that you can begin the process, fill in the forms and then shop for an estate attorney to review the documents you have created and answer all your questions.
Ask the attorney for advice on how to alter the online forms to better suit your situation in your state. If you want something solid, only an attorney can help you navigate through this complicated and very important decision. An attorney will also legally file all the documents for you.

Vineyardtechie answered...

I concur with the above advice. What I did: visit online legal sites for the product you need. Choose the site that seems User friendly & affordable. To know what u want, then visit the help/study sections of that site(s). A "good" site will ask u to enter your state of residency. Spend a few bucks to join the site & fill out the "template" docs. Then, take the completed docs to your local, friendly & affordable attorney, for a "review".

I did so, & was totally surprised! My new attorney charged me not a single dollar! Said I did a good job & he saw nothing that he would change.

I thanked him & said of course I'd be back for paid assistance, as the need arises. Win-win.

Caveat: Yes, you do have to be somewhat "learned" to do the above; I also studied para-legal studies & was a school teacher (M.Ed.), so if you didn't do well in H.S., then just pay up & get it done right, produced by an attorney right off. Peace of mind. Jim