With the holidays upon us, many people are making their lists and checking them twice for the best deals of the season. Technology is exponentially changing the way that consumers do their Christmas shopping, and Black Friday has quickly lost its holiday-deal dominance to Cyber Monday due to the online convenience of sleeping in and skipping the traffic. This year alone, shoppers spent more than $5.1 billion online during the Thanksgiving holiday, while in-store sales were down more than $1 billion from 2014, according to numbers from the ShopperTrak research firm.
It’s no surprise to us, then, to see an increase in online sales for other consumer products as well – including estate planning services. Companies like LegalZoom.com and RocketLawyer.com offer everything from wills to divorce papers in a convenient and relatively inexpensive manner. But just because online options are available and generally cheaper than a local lawyer’s fees, does that mean you should use them?
Online estate planning documents come with a high element of risk for users in all states. Because online legal forms are commonly of the “one size fits all” variety, users may overlook the legal nuances of each individual’s unique situation. While a client believes they’ve made all the necessary arrangements for their family’s future, a crisis may then arise and their documents be found incomplete, inaccurate, or even completely useless in their hour of need.
In addition to the risks all users face, Louisiana residents face additional risks with online legal services. Louisiana is a state notorious for its unique estate planning and administration requirements. For example, Louisiana has forced heirship and a usufruct form of ownership often used in estate planning. Additionally, Louisiana’s trust law is very different than the other 49 states. These differences are often overlooked or treated incorrectly in documents created for mass use.
Most legal sites have disclaimers to the effect that they don’t guarantee their documents will meet a client’s specific needs. One even states that “information and opinions received via the website should not be relied upon for personal, medical, legal, or financial decisions.” Why would you trust your family’s or loved one’s future to a website that disclaims its ability to actually provide you with what you need?
When considering how to plan for you or your family’s future, the best thing that you can do is find a local legal professional you trust. Look for a lawyer who takes the time to learn about your individual situation, offers options that you may have never otherwise considered, and takes steps to ensure that each document is properly handled to suit your needs.
For those who think they could never afford a lawyer’s fees, remember that the peace of mind that comes with settling your estate is worth the investment. Additionally, you and your family will develop a relationship with someone who can be there to guide you through difficult times that often accompany disability and death.
Commercial holiday shopping may continue to highlight the search for the best and most convenient deal available, but when it comes to estate planning, the old adage remains true: you typically get what you pay for. While online shoppers for holiday deals may risk their purchases being a different color than they had imagined, not fitting right, including additional shipping expenses or coming in the mail after Christmas, clients of online estate planning services risk leaving their family with unnecessary financial burdens or reaching the end of their lives only to find out that they do not qualify for the benefits they need. So, continue to enjoy online shopping for your holiday presents, but when the New Year comes and you resolve to protect your family and loved ones by completing your estate planning, turn to local professionals who are knowledgeable about estate planning and can ensure you of the right solution to fit your needs.
Mrs. Melancon has engaged in the practice of law in Louisiana for the past 17 years. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, special needs planning, elder law and probate. She is also accredited by the VA to give advice regarding veterans’ benefits. For more information, please contact her at 225-744-0027. You may also visit her website at www.LegacyCenterLa.com.