Estate Planning Myths -- Debunked!

Myth #1: The only difference between a do-it-yourself online trust and one from a lawyer is that the online trust is MUCH less expensive.

Reality: Creating a trust online is like purchasing a car without an engine.

Don't get us wrong: the Internet is a fabulous invention. Barely 20-years-old, the Web not only is a revolutionary communications medium, but has catalyzed regime-changing revolutions themselves. When it comes to spreading viral cat memes, Gutenberg's formidable printing press might as well head to the back of the line.

Less helpfully, the explosive growth of online shopping has given rise some dangerous misconceptions about e-commerce. Conventional wisdom holds that a product purchased online will be less expensive than traditional brick-and-mortar, with little or no loss in quality. While this notion may hold true for books or garden hoses, the opposite often is true when it comes to complex legal services.

Witness the "myth" of online estate-planning: One popular, legal do-it-yourself website advertises, at the cost of $249, what purports to be a complete revocable trust package. This same website even backs the bargain with a $50,000 "guarantee" should anything go wrong.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Were this an actual, fully functioning revocable trust -- guaranteed to work, no less -- the sticker price would indeed represent an unbelievable bargain.

It is only by reading several clicks deeper into the fine-print that the true picture emerges, and it isn't pretty: The $249 "trust" you will be receiving (after revealing all of your most personal information, incidentally, to a website), does not actually transfer your home or other real property into the trust. Instead, that "minor detail" -- in reality, a critical feature of just about any trust -- is left to the unwitting customer to figure out.

And that $50,000 "guarantee"? Again, reading the fine-print, the guarantee conspicuously does not protect the customer's "failure" to fund the trust.

So, why does this matter?

Because an unfunded trust is like a computer without a hard drive, a car without an engine.

A pizza with no cheese!

It is in "minor details" such as the funding of a trust that the experience and integrity of an old-fashioned, brick-and-mortar law firm such as Gale & Nielsen come into play.

We would never blithely send a client on their merry way with an unfunded trust (or a cheese-less pizza, for that matter -- but that's another story.)

Likewise, we would never mislead a client by offering the "backing" of some sham guarantee that, upon reading the fine-print, disintegrates into so much beach sand.

Estate-planning is an exacting business: Real estate, bank accounts, life insurance policies -- each asset demands specialized, hands-on treatment in a way that e-commerce simply isn't designed to address.

So keep right on shopping online for tube socks and plane tickets.

But don't risk your estate plan on hidden fine-print.