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Attorney-Drafted Estate Plan vs. Using an Online Form

The Law Offices of Steven H. Peck, Ltd. Aug. 29, 2023

Most of us have probably encountered ads on TV or online promising a quick and easy path to creating a last will and testament living trust. This DIY (do-it-yourself) approach is available on many different sites, and the advertised prices look promising to the unaware buyer. The question is: Can the will that’s produced stand up in probate court? When a will is administered through probate, there can be challenges on many fronts to its validity and to its fairness. 

An online will-creation site basically functions with checkboxes and blanks to be filled in. Though some sites may offer optional attorney’s services, that will cost extra and will not be the same as having a personal relationship with a local estate planning attorney, who can not only create a legally-binding document but also help you make important decisions that affect your life and the lives of your loved ones going forward. 

For all your estate planning needs in or around Cook County or Lake County, Illinois, as well as the counties of McHenry and DuPage, contact The Law Offices of Steven H. Peck, Ltd.  

Steven H. Peck is a member of the Illinois Forum of Estate Planning Attorneys as well as Wealth Counsel, a nationwide group of attorneys committed to bringing their clients the finest estate planning advice and documentation possible. He has more than three decades of experience in helping individuals and families create solid estate planning instruments (including wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and more) that provide lasting peace of mind for everyone. 

Requirements for a Will in Illinois

A will in Illinois must be in writing, which means it cannot be digital. If you do create a will using an online tool, you must print it out for it to be valid. Also, regardless of how the will is created, the testator (the person authoring it) must be at least 18 years of age and “of sound mind and memory.” The testator must sign the will, or have someone in his or her presence sign it, and it must be witnessed by two individuals who are not named as beneficiaries in the will. 

Online Forms vs. Working With an Estate Planning Attorney

First of all, think of the personal touch. If you create a will online, it can be a nightmare of choices. To whom do you turn for advice, especially when it comes to making your wishes crystal-clear and legally-binding when matters go through probate court proceedings?  

Though some online sites provide the option to ask questions of an attorney, that attorney won’t know you from Adam, as the saying goes, and will only advise you in general terms, not help you explore your innermost wishes for your loved ones. Plus, you’ll never get the same attorney twice. 

LegalZoom, a DIY site, issues this warning that serves as a summary of the drawbacks of using online forms: “At no time do we review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice, opinions or recommendations about your legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms, or strategies, or apply the law to the facts of your particular situation. LegalZoom is not a law firm and may not perform services performed by an attorney.” 

State-Specific vs. General

There is also the issue of whether the document you create will be state-specific enough. Some sites claim to offer state-specific options, but again, that is just a general application of legal principles, not the same as having a local attorney advise and guide you on the precise language needed. 

Even if the document you create meets the general standards of your state, you still need to be careful with your wording. The language must be dispositive in nature, which means that failing to use words of “testamentary intent” might void the will. Using what is called “precatory” language, such as “I would like” so-and-so to receive this and that, could render the dispositions unenforceable. 

Making Modifications

Making modifications to an online will can be difficult. Most sites are designed to cough out a one-time result. If you get divorced and remarried, there is no real mechanism for lining out previous options and creating new ones. You will no doubt need to void the previous document and create a new one. If you do this, however, then heirs and beneficiaries can pose the challenge of whether the previous will is still valid. 

Working with an attorney to create your will provides a means to prove to the probate court which will is the latest version and which will or wills have been canceled and superseded. Your lawyer can provide proof to the court of which document is the valid one since he or she will have possession and knowledge of every will and/or every modification. 

How an Attorney Can Help

An experienced estate planning attorney can make sure that the language in your will (or living trust if you wish to go that route) contains the proper dispositive language to help ward off disputes when you pass on. And that brings up another question: Are you better off with a will or a living trust?  

Living trusts avoid probate, so beneficiaries for the most part can receive their share of the assets more expeditiously. Even with a trust, however, you may still need a will. This is why working with an attorney is so essential. You won’t be left fumbling in the proverbial dark trying to figure out what to do—trust, will, or both? 

Start Building Your Estate Plan Today

You can never be too young (unless you’re under 18) or too old to begin estate planning, but you can be too late. Aging may take its toll and make it hard for you to make decisions that have such far-reaching effects as deciding who should get what of your assets when you’re gone. 

In Illinois, contact The Law Offices of Steven H. Peck, Ltd. to discuss all your options for taking care of your loved ones and yourself as you move forward in life. You may need a will, a living trust, some powers of attorney, a living will and advance directive, or more, depending on your circumstances.  

Reach out today so Steven H. Peck can meet with you to discuss your needs and wishes for the sake of you and your loved ones going forward.