Legal Zoom is a popular online platform that provides legal services, including the creation of wills. One of the most common questions that I get has to do with the comparison of a Legal Zoom will to an attorney-prepared will. While Legal Zoom can be a convenient and affordable option for some people, it is definitely not for everyone. There are some attorneys out there who will tell you to NEVER use Legal Zoom for anything. They will tell you how terrible their documents are and have all kinds of horror stories for you. I am not one of those attorneys. Using Legal Zoom for creating a will is a great option for the right people under the right circumstances. For a certain set of customers, Legal Zoom has really done a great thing making legal services more accessible. But, for the wrong people or the wrong circumstances, a Legal Zoom will can be invalid, unwieldy, inappropriate, or even downright counterproductive. So let’s talk about those circumstances and some of the upsides and downsides to a Legal Zoom will.

1. Hope You Like Multiple Choice Tests!

When you start the process of creating your Legal Zoom will, the online platform will run you through a series of questions – some of which may have some complicated legal ideas attached. If you have further questions about what exactly you are being asked to decide, there is no lawyer in front of you to help you understand (and if you call LegalZoom, their CSRs (who are not lawyers) cannot give you legal advice or explain legal concepts). If you answer these questions correctly, you are likely to end up with a quality document that will do what you need it to do. CONGRATULATIONS! If you answer these questions incorrectly, you are likely to end up with a document that would be great for someone else, but is not great for you. Best case scenario, such an inappropriate document could create some minor inconveniences; worst case, you could be handing your heirs an incipient controversy with legal fees twenty times what a will would have cost. The upshot is that, if you are comfortable doing a significant amount of research and educating yourself on what various legal terms mean, then a Legal Zoom will might be a good option for you. If you are not, you might rethink where you’re getting your will done.

2. Hope Your Family Is Normal(ish)!

One of the most common issues with using LegalZoom for a will is that it may not be tailored to your specific needs and circumstances. Legal Zoom’s standard will template is written for a certain range of circumstances, and can be modified by the program to accommodate a few different scenarios within that range of circumstances. But what if your circumstances are outside of what the programmers envisioned? The Legal Zoom will template may not take into account unique family situations, atypical financial arrangements, or unusual assets you may own. This can lead to unintended consequences, or just a flat- out inability to accomplish what you set out to accomplish. Here, you might ask, with some justification “don’t lawyers use templates too?” – and the answer is YES, WE DO. But here is the difference. When there is a mismatch between the template and the situation such as client goals, etc., a competent estate planning lawyer knows what parts of the template can be changed, and what parts need to remain immovable. A lawyer can generally help you find a way to get anywhere you want to go (as long as it is legal!), even if where you want to go is off-road from the template. With Legal Zoom, the template can only change so much. While this limitation is absolutely understandable from a perspective of Legal Zoom limiting their own liability, it is nonetheless a major limitation.

3. Legal Zoom Customer Service Reps Are Not Lawyers

If you call Legal Zoom for help with your legal documents, you will not be talking to a lawyer, and the CSRs won’t give you legal advice. Let me say that again. If you call Legal Zoom, the Customer Service Representatives assisting you are not lawyers cannot and will not give you legal advice. Which means that if you are struggling to understand what some of those multiple choice questions mean… tough luck, you’re on your own! If you choose to work with a qualified estate planning law firm, on the other hand, you have a direct line to a real lawyer.

4. Legal Zoom Is Not Meant For Complicated Estates

Legal Zoom is not geared to handle estates that are ultra-complicated or estates that may end up owing estate tax. These types of estates generally need customized documents in order to be the most tax-efficient.
  • If you want to create trusts or restrictions in your estate, it is a virtual certainty that you are better off hiring an estate planning attorney.
  • If your net worth is over $1M, it is a virtual certainty that you are better off hiring an estate planning attorney.
  • If your estate has non-typical sources of income and assets, it is a virtual certainty that you are better off hiring an estate planning attorney.

5. What If You Have Questions Later?

I, like many estate planning attorneys, typically recommend to my clients that they at least open and re- read their wills and other estate planning documents every 3-5 years. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to redo the entire thing every 3-5 years, just that you need to read it every 3-5 years to make up your own mind about whether we need to meet. What if you’re reading your will and you have a question? – “What on earth does THAT paragraph mean?” “Why is THIS section here?” “I don’t remember talking about THOSE points, is that right?” If you worked with an estate planning attorney, you can set up a quick consult to go over those questions and put your mind at ease. If you used Legal Zoom… see point #3 above about non-lawyer CSRs

6. The Will Execution Ceremony

Part of creating a valid will is how the will is executed. In Texas, that requires certain questions, recitations, sworn statements, witnesses, and a notary. As an estate planning attorney, I do these will execution ceremonies regularly. But as a layperson, odds are that you do not. As a result, there is a risk that the will created through LegalZoom may not be executed properly. If the execution ceremony is not conducted properly, this could invalidate the entire will! While LegalZoom provides instructions on how to properly execute the will, if the instructions are not followed correctly, your will could be thrown out entirely. And, of course, since Legal Zoom provided you with the correct instructions on how to do it, and YOU did not follow the instructions, they are not responsible. Also, if you’re not sure that you’re doing the execution correctly, and you call them to ask a question – see my point #3 above – you won’t be talking to an attorney. Talk about a disaster!

Should You Use Legal Zoom For Estate Planning?

Some of you may have reached this point in the article and are thinking to yourselves “I can handle those things” or “those issues don’t apply to me” – that’s great. At this point in your life, you are a good candidate for Legal Zoom or any number of other DIY legal help providers. Go for it! And if you need help revising things in the future, call me! Other of you may have reached this point and decided Legal Zoom is not appropriate for you. If that is you, you should call a good estate planning attorney for help.   DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with Legal Zoom in any way. All logos, trademarks, etc. of Legal Zoom are exclusively the property of Legal Zoom