Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who's zoomin' who?

Legal Zoom announced today that it's going to be selling pet trusts as part of its estate planning. Sigh...

Let's talk about this. While I suppose do-it-yourself pet trusts are arguably animal law and fit within the self-imposed parameters of this blog, this is really more about a larger issue.

To everyone out there who isn't a lawyer and is tempted to buy these forms to save some money: please, please PLEASE really think this through. Yes, hiring a lawyer can be expensive. But so is hiring a neurosurgeon. Yet how many people are up for do-it-yourself brain surgery? Just because drafting your own estate plan doesn't seem as obviously disaster-prone doesn't mean that there aren't some potentially really messy consequences out there. And in some respects, possibly even worse: with do-it-yourself surgery, at least you're only hurting yourself. Screw up a will or trust and you're automatically leaving a big mess for your loved ones because, by definition, you'll be dead by then.

The problem is not the forms themselves. They are pretty straightforward and yes, most people are perfectly competent to fill in their names, addresses, next of kin and so forth. The problem isn't even when any of those things change (assuming you remember to change your form, which, for some people, does become a problem). The problem is when any one of a million little other circumstances crop up that are not addressed by the generic mass-targeted language of the forms. Now try going to a lawyer. It's like the difference between hiring a contractor to build a solid house from the ground up or trying to get someone to shore up your 3-story, plate-glass dream home with a bird's eye view of the San Andreas fault. Not good. And it's not just the pet trusts. A reliable estate plan accounts for EVERY aspect of your life that you want to make sure is taken care of - whether it's an especially long-lived parrot or having peace of mind that the residuals from your best-selling commercial jingle will continue to fund your grandchild's special needs trust... when the original copyright ends 28 years after you wrote it... which ends up being a year after you die.

Look, I like saving money. Everyone does. There are some things, however, that are just not worth price-shopping. Buying contacts from 1-800-contacts is different than getting your eyes examined by a Caribbean-schooled doctor at eyeballs-r-us.

The attorney who Legal Zoom says drafted their forms apparently has a lot of experience doing pet trusts. That's great. If you want to use her services, call her office and make an appointment. If she's not licensed for your state, maybe she can make a referral. Yes, hiring a lawyer will cost more today. Yes, it may mean foregoing something else you would rather - or even, yes, need to - buy. But the few hundred or thousands it costs today will pale in comparison to the cost of a probate battle tomorrow.

My two cents.

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