Estate Planning in the Digital Age

The “Digital Age” has Brought Change to the World of Law

That you are reading this right now, on digital media, is a testament to that simple fact. New digital technology should be able to bring “convenience, efficiency and savings” to estate planning. It’s true that the digital age has brought a bevy of enhancements which, really, no plan should be without anymore, but also brought a lot of confusion.

The Problems of Traditional Estate Plans

You know, of course, that you need an estate plan. Any decent estate plan will bring you these improvements to your life:

  • save you the expense and hassle of probate
  • protect your privacy
  • ensure that your wishes are followed when you pass away or are sick
  • manage your affairs effectively in an emergency or when you are incapacitated

But what is it like to go to a lawyer for a traditional estate plan? You spend a half a day traveling to his office and meeting with the lawyer. In planning and drafting your documents, you would probably take a few trips to the lawyer’s office, trips that aren’t much more fun than going to a dentist.

About a month, and a few thousand dollars, later, you have your legal documents. Yes, your documents will provide you with those wonderful benefits: they can protect your privacy, let you avoid probate, provide for you and your family in case of emergency. But for how long?

What of you are on a trip and in an accident? The documents you need to manage your affairs are nowhere around when you actually need them. What happens after a hurricane or a flood and your documents are lost? That expense estate plan won’t do you any good if nobody can get to the documents.

What if you have complex tax and property issues and retirement issues that need the input of more than one professional with specific expertise? A traditional plan may take months to finalize as it goes back and forth between different experts. And what happens when things in your life change? Will that expensive plan just sit on a shelf collecting dust, getting more and more horribly out of date?

The Morass of Digital Options

You may have shopped around on the internet for “do-it-yourself” estate planning documents. If so, you would have been faced with a bewildering array of cheap do-it-yourself documents, maybe even “free” ones. You might be skeptical of their claims, and rightly so. You don’t have anywhere to turn if they don’t work. And do those legal documents that “work in every state” really work in Louisiana? Maybe not.

What about online legal document solutions like Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer? They claim to have very cheap and painless solutions. Supposedly, you could just fill out some online forms and, for a few dollars, have most of the legal documents you would need.

Those promises are very enticing. Who wouldn’t love to have their legal issues addressed in just a few minutes? All of the providers’ solutions had one or more serious flaws. The most obvious of which was that, when it comes to estate planning, you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what questions need to be asked or if the one-size-fits-all automated solution really fits you. Those “free” documents can end up being very expensive, indeed!

But, there are ways to make the promises of digital technology come true.