The answer to this may surprise you. Especially coming from an attorney whose living is made drafting estate plans for families in the Rocklin and Roseville area where many families have made the decision to plan for their future. And the answer is a resounding no. You do not need an attorney to draft your will or trust documents at all.
In fact, you don't need an attorney to help you with any legal matter. Accused of a crime? Injured and looking for compensation for your pain and suffering? Have a contract dispute? Arguing with your spouse and looking to file divorce? None of these things require an attorney to seek assistance from our court system.
Plenty of people have gone through all of those issues and represented themselves. And even a few even managed to do it successfully. However, the law is a very complex web requiring years of study and experience to insure you don't put yourself in a worse situation than when you began. It takes an attorney 4+ years just to complete the education and licensing requirements just to call themselves an attorney. And every day working as one brings with it the need to investigate and learn. Its why we practice law rather than do law.
Many of us can do fairly well determining our own arguments in our defense, but what an attorney does is figure out the ten other ways your opponent will beat out the argument you thought was airtight. I often refer to law school as the professional arguer's academy. Finding arguments and counterarguments is engrained into your mind through the indoctrination of the law school experience. Are there those that have this natural ability without the need for law school? Of course, but most of us aren't born with it.
When it comes to estate planning, most of the documents you need to have completed can be purchased at an office supply store or downloaded from some open source website online. They're typically your cookie cutter, fill-in-the-blank documents that leave no room for customization. In fact, you could even have a document preparation business fill in the blanks for you, although I don't know why you would.
The reality is that you nor the non-attorney document preparation guy do not know the law well enough to understand how certain decisions could affect you or your family in the future. Just having the documents completed isn't enough. They need to be done right.
Any business is faced with three choices when they offer a product or service to the public. They can be good, they can be fast, or they can be cheap. Sometimes you can even select two of these options, but never all three. It just doesn't work. Think about it, do you go to eat at a fast food restaurant because its good? No, you go because its fast, and cheap. Do you go to a fine steak house for dinner because its cheap? Of course not, you go because its good.
When you go to the office supply store, the open-source website, or a document preparation business, you're doing it because you want a deal and maybe because you want it done quickly. They are offering the fast and cheap service options. But they're most certainly not offering the good option. It's just not possible.
There are some online legal services websites who use the words “rocket” or “zoom” in their names, which implies they are fast. They are then coupled with the words “lawyer” or “legal”, which are words that tell us the service they're offering, legal work. Remember our three options from before? Rocket and zoom show they are fast, the next option leaves you wondering if they are good, or if they are cheap. Well, I'm not much of a betting man anymore, but I am willing to bet that people use these types of website service providers because they are cheap. So, if you're using these services, like a fast food restaurant, you're doing so because they are fast and cheap, but not good.
Good legal representation is not cheap. As the saying goes, “there is nothing more expensive than a cheap lawyer.” While legal representation doesn't have to break the bank, you also don't want to go with the budget options either. You and your family will end up paying for it later. And I'm not just talking about money. The stress involved in fixing an issue created by a cheap and quick fix is never easy.
While you don't need to have an attorney draft your estate plan, you should certainly consider it. The money you spend today will be well invested for your future. If you don't have an estate plan established, or it's been a while since you've visited your plan, give us a call to schedule a consultation right away. You never know what tomorrow has in store for you, so don't delay.