Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Every Time I See an Ad for LegalZoom I Cringe

You have seen Robert Shapiro, the criminal attorney known for his representation of O.J. Simpson, on these ads for Legalzoom.com.  He is plugging his website-based product as an easy, inexpensive way to, among other things, form a legal entity, get a divorce or prepare a will.  While I have never tried the service, I have read their disclaimer.  You know, the fine print where you are told that LegalZoom is not a law firm and they are not your attorney, and they are not permitted to practice law or give you legal advice.  The disclaimer discusses that they do not review your information for legal sufficiency or draw legal conclusions.  It adds that its product “is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. Because the law changes rapidly, is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction…”  Still feeling confident?  It continues “LegalZoom is not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage related to your use of this site…, whether from errors or omissions in the content of our site…, from the site being down or from any other use of the site. In short, your use of the site is at your own risk.”  So, in the words of LegalZoom, use their site at your own risk.

 It is conceivable that, despite not using an attorney, you may end up with a valid legal document that meets your needs.  It is just as conceivable that you end up with an insufficient document without even knowing it.

 As an estate planning attorney, I have never taken the “one document fits all” approach.  Also as an Ohio attorney, I would never try to prepare a will for a resident of another state.  I have wondered how the people at LegalZoom could know whether a will was executed properly under the laws of the State of Ohio?  How could they advise people on the importance of understanding what assets are non-probate assets and the importance of beneficiary designations?  How could they advise a young couple with children on the advantages of a contingent trust?  How could they know whether a will was prepared for a person by another and that person lacked capacity or was unduly influenced?  There are several other questions that one could ask and the answer would always be the same.  Read the disclaimer.

 I recently handled an estate where the decedent tried to create his own will, apparently using a form off of the Internet.  He signed it and had it notarized.  Guess what?  It was not a valid will.  He died intestate.  If you ask any estate planning/probate attorney whether they have encountered a matter where problems arose from a person preparing their own legal documents, the answer will almost certainly be yes.  These are the types of cases that end up making attorneys a lot more money cleaning up the mess after the person is gone.  Seriously, if there were a problem with a will you created on the Internet, how would you ever know?

 Finally, take a look at these comments regarding LegalZoom users.

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