Every year, thousands of consumers create their own wills, powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents using kits which are available either on the internet or in retail locations. With a more sophisticated population and increasing numbers of people on the internet, there has been a proliferation of products available in recent years.
But what is driving this increase in “doing it yourself”? Price or sophistication?
It seems that price is a significant driving factor. Consumer concerns with respect to the cost involved in creating a will is one of the considerations behind the creation of “discount retail” law offices. As discussed in this Toronto Star article, firms like Axess Law, which operates out of Walmart stores, offer quick and inexpensive legal services.
Of course, depending on a person's needs and circumstances, some do-it-yourself kits can be effective. For example, the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee offers an excellent power of attorney kit on their website, which will be sufficient for many people if used properly. Similarly, Axess Law provides services from lawyers, and can prepare simple and effective documents. The concern, however, with respect to using forms and quick services, is the need to ensure that the work is done properly.
Wills and powers of attorney are documents which are carefully worded and have evolved over time. There are significant and specific legal consequences to each word in these documents, which may not be understood by a layperson and, in the worst-case scenario, may result in your document being invalid or other unintended effects. Additionally, these documents do not operate in a vacuum, but are informed by a person's assets, family and legal circumstances. When properly used, they can provide tax planning opportunities and other benefits that could be missed if relying on a basic form. Although, as noted, there are some reputable and legitimate documents available which can be effective, professional expertise may be invaluable, depending on the circumstances.
One of the main benefits of using “do-it-yourself” will kits, or discount services for your testamentary documents is that the service is fast. In an urgent situation where, for instance, a power of attorney is needed in Ontario, you can have access to a solution which will provide results in a timely manner. Once the urgency has passed, however, it is important to seek advice from a lawyer who will take the time to consider your personal situation and how it can best be managed. Although the extra time may seem inconvenient, you cannot underestimate the risks of an improperly made estate plan or power of attorney.
Furthermore, part of the reason these kits are so frequently used is that, for many people, the process of getting organized to create an estate plan and a will is overwhelming. As a result, they may put it off until it becomes urgent, and the only option appears to be a kit which will provide quick results. However, a lawyer who will take the time to sit down with you and consider your personal situation and your testamentary wishes will be invaluable in helping you understand how to get your affairs in order, as well as ensuring that your wishes will be clearly and properly set out and honoured later on.
Ian Hull and Suzana Popovic-Montag are partners at Hull & Hull LLP, an innovative law firm that practices exclusively in estate, trust and capacity litigation. To watch more Hull & Hull TV episodes, please visit our Hull & Hull TV page.