The Dangers of Pre-Made Legal Form Packages
by Eric Gormly
You can buy one of the relatively inexpensive packets of pre-made legal forms you may have seen advertised or available in stores. These typically include sample documents such as a will, a health care power of attorney, an advance directive, and so on. You can fill these in yourself and, if properly executed and filed, the documents may be legally enforceable.
However, without a competent attorney who understands these issues to draft the documents, you risk the following potential problems:
1) what is enforceable (and enforced by the court) may not be what you intended;
2) what you intended may not be enforceable by the court;
3) what you intended may be in the document and enforceable, but open to challenge because of the document’s form or phrasing;
4) even with an enforceable, air-tight document that reflects exactly what you intended at the time you signed it, the document may fail to account for changes in circumstances that would change your intentions, which may now be unenforceable,
5) even with an enforceable, air-tight document that reflects exactly what you intended at that time, you might be unaware of a number of options, such as certain kinds of trusts, that could better protect your assets or lower taxes; and
6) if anything goes wrong, such as an unhappy relative challenging your will or someone in your deceased spouse’s family challenging your right to guardianship of a child, either:
- you are on your own, or;
- you have to search for an attorney who will immediately take your case and step in to act.
You run substantial risk by relying on these one-size-fits-all packages of document forms.
Further, many families need substantially more intricate estate planning to protect their assets and their rights, planning that can require highly involved trusts or financial instruments. Those families are especially vulnerable if they fail to consult a trained attorney to address their specialized needs.
Do not put yourself in this position. Seek out an attorney who understands these legal issues and will work with you to put together a comprehensive plan.