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Online wills pose risks

The internet may be an excellent source of information, including forms to assist with estate planning. However, people who download these documents may not know what it is needed to know about Michigan law and estate planning. Do-it-yourself form documents may not address the many complexities surround the planning and drafting of wills and other important documents.

Proper estate documents can help avoid probate and other court involvement, reduce paperwork and confusion over estate administration, ease family tension and assure that property is distributed as planned after a person dies. Unlike other legal or tax planning mistakes that have a chance of being worked out, sloppy drafting may be permanent because the person who executed the documents is gone.

Most online services offer a draft will, trust, a financial power of attorney and health care directive. These are usually fill-in-the-blank documents. This approach usually does not address Michigan's probate law and a person's and their family's specific situation and potential tax consequences.

Software packages that may be purchased from stores also follow this approach. These may also have names for documents that do not reflect state probate laws.

People completing do-it-yourself wills are likely unaware of Michigan law and court cases which may govern what they intend to do with their assets. These plans may also lack other options and documents that may address a person's situation.

A professional trustee and executor reviewed estate document packages from online services that had three names for the same document. An important document was also missing from one of these packages. Some internet sites also provided limited legal consultation that was not a conversation with an attorney, but a drop-down list of questions with pre-drafted answers.

A qualified estate attorney can address a person's situation and provide estate planning options. They also have the expertise to draft legally-valid documents.

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