Why Not Get A Will On-Line?
So, Amy - in your last post, you told me that all I need for a will in Minnesota is to be at least 18 years old, write something down, sign and date it in the presence of two witnesses, and ask the witnesses to sign it, too. If I don't need an attorney, why on earth would I hire one? Good question! Writing your own will is free, and getting one on-line is cheap. No question about it.
The reason to hire an attorney isn't to get a special piece of paper. It's to get a full, individual analysis of your situation, catch any 'loose threads' that could create knots in the future, provide your loved ones with information about how to manage things after you are gone, and to have a real human being you (or your family) can call for advice if things change in the future.
When I'm talking with clients and asking questions about their futures, they often say, "I hadn't thought of that!" Every time I hear that comment, I know I've just added value to that person's future plan. Your attorney's job is to go through all of the 'What-If's' and 'Worst-Case-Scenarios' so that if (when?) the unthinkable happens, your family is in the best position possible to weather the storm.
You should expect your attorney to get a 360 degree 'snap-shot' of your life: not just your finances (which is important), but a snap-shot of your family, too. Your attorney should be curious about the relationship between your family members, should ask questions about things you might not have thought of, and catch things that could create a hassle for your family members if not dealt with now. Most importantly, your attorney should never judge your choices of who to make gifts to, or how you choose to dispose of your estate.
Oddly, money isn't the main thing family members fight over after a loved one is gone. The biggest disagreements are usually over items of sentimental value, or whether or when or how to sell a piece of real estate, or who gets to be the 'decision-maker' related to the estate. Childhood grievances come roaring back after decades ("Mom always did like you best!" or "You always did think I was stupid!").
Your attorney should take these dynamics into account, and offer ways to help anticipate and then ease some of these tensions. Sometimes tricky family relationships can be addressed within an estate plan itself, and sometimes there are other ways to ensure good cooperation between family members - through letters, individual conversations, or in tricky cases, an attorney-facilitated family meeting.
Recently a client told me that they had considered just going on-line to print out a simple will - but they are so glad they didn't go that route. Together we've created a long-term plan that takes into account the unique, human, circumstances of each of their children in a way that has the very real potential to save their family significant sums of money in the long run.
Sure, they could have gotten their wills on-line. It would have saved them a little money now. But they wouldn't have had a plan that covers multiple eventualities to protect and provide for their children in the long run. And they wouldn't have the peace of mind that a professional plan can bring.
Still want an on-line plan? Go for it. And never forget: attorneys make more money fixing bad plans than creating good ones in the first place.