Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

It takes good legal advice to plan your will, but these software alternatives can help

Can will-making software replace a legal professional? The answer depends on whom you ask. For an attorney, the obvious answer is no. For software companies and independent consultants, the answer lies somewhere between a definite “yes” and “it depends.”

Will-making software such as Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker Plus 2005, Suze Orman’s Will & Trust Kit, and Broderbund’s WillWriter Deluxe, as well as Websites such as LegalZoom.com, are inexpensive alternatives to what could be pricey attorney consultations.

But attorneys warn that software cannot replace the value of good legal advice. “In the case of an individual who cannot afford to consult with an attorney or who may otherwise prefer to prepare documents independently, the software is generally adequate and the documents are typically legal,” says Lawrence E. Davidow, president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. But he adds, “The primary pitfall is that the software programs [provide] a one-size-fits-all solution that may not address the specific needs and desires of the individual.” For example, preprinted forms of living trusts are not valid in Louisiana because the Louisiana Trust Code requires that all trusts be in authentic act form.

BLACK ENTERPRISE tested Quicken WillMaker Plus 2005 and LegalZoom.com as two options for preparing your will and estate plan before bringing your legal documents to an attorney for review.

Quicken WillMaker Plus 2005 comes with an extensive list of documents, such as credit repair and power of attorney forms, elder and childcare agreements, and authorization to travel with a minor. When you register your software, you can download a free copy of the e-book Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million to Retire Well. That makes it more than worth the $49.99 price. The application is easy to install and use. For example, you can create a legal will; a living trust — either a basic one or an AB, also known as a living trust with marital life estate; or a living will, also called a healthcare directive. The program guides you through the process.

Before you begin, however, it is a good idea to prepare a list of your assets, get current addresses of beneficiaries, and make sure that your executor is willing to take on the task. In the wrap-up and review section, you have the opportunity to review your will, make changes, and export it to another format. Above all, get solid legal advice from a qualified professional.

LegalZoom.com is packed with information and forms for just about any legal need. You can fill out the questionnaire the site provides to prepare your documents before you commit to purchasing anything. The questions are simple and there are handy help buttons along the way should you not understand a question. When you are finished with your will, the company’s legal experts review your document for errors or missing information.

The site also provides an extensive online legal library to help you determine which forms you need. At LegalZoom.com, a standard will starts at $59; living wills start at $39.

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