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Limitations of online DIY estate planning services

Online services that prepare fill-in-the-blank estate planning documents, like wills and powers of attorney, have been available in Florida for years. People might turn to these services if they feel uncomfortable actually discussing end-of-life subjects and financial matters with a person. The AARP confirmed this reluctance with a survey that found only four in 10 people had an estate plan. Preparing the documents online might feel convenient and appear affordable, but these services have limitations.

A professional fiduciary warns that people might not have enough information to make effective choices when they use online providers. Someone might understand the importance of a will but not realize that an estate plan should also include a financial power of attorney, an advance health care directive, and perhaps a trust. Online companies generally offer customers access to these documents, but complete packages might wind up costing hundreds of dollars.

Estate documents that provide thorough and specific instructions have a greater potential to avoid court intervention or challenges from family members. A will with off-the-shelf language might not convey clearly a person's final wishes. Even so, financial advisers consider any estate plan superior to having none at all.

A consultation with an attorney could provide personalized advice about how to communicate final wishes. Legal insights about various issues, like the tax obligations of heirs, contingent beneficiaries, or providing for a surviving spouse could alert a person to unexpected issues that an estate plan could address. Someone with substantial assets and multiple real estate holdings might want legal support when sorting out complex financial details. After gaining a clear understanding of a client's goals, an attorney familiar with the state's laws concerning wills could strive to produce a document with clear and specific language.

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