Legalzoom Review for Will Preparation
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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Estate planning attorneys no longer have a lock on will preparation. Do-it-yourself on-line services, books and software packages are popping up to make what required at least a few hundred-dollar visit to a lawyer’s office a much less expensive task without leaving your home or office. One such entity is Legalzoom.com, which advertises itself as a “legal document service”. You will find it on the web at www.legalzoom.com.
Legalzoom was founded by attorneys and professes to “simplify the law and make it accessible for everyone." Their website says that all of their forms were “developed by experienced attorneys”, so that “you can be sure that their documents are dependable." Their money-back satisfaction guarantee states:
Legalzoom guarantees your satisfaction with our services and support. Because our company was created by top attorneys, we strive to be the best legal documentation service on the web. If you are not satisfied with our services for any reason, please contact us immediately and we will either correct the situation or provide a refund, your choice.
Legalzoom’s home page is not flashy. It focuses on what services they offer with links to explanations and detailed information about their products. The company provides documents for business formation, wills and estate planning, trademarks, patents and copyrights, divorce and name change. It is not exactly a do-it-yourself model—you answer their questions and they create the document for you.
Learn About Their Service
To learn about their estate planning document service, simply click on wills and living trusts and you will find descriptions of the estate documents they can prepare for you, a detailed chart comparing wills to living trusts, powers of attorney and living wills, and a link to Legalzoom’s education center. The education center provides an informative introduction to wills, a myriad of frequently asked questions and a glossary of estate-related terms. The website also offers a free estate planning guide to download to your computer. It is a short and plainly written synopsis of some estate-planning instruments, but it lacks many details that would be helpful to know before making choices about such devices.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about creating your will or other legal documents, Legalzoom has Customer Support available by phone from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time, and, if you send them an email, they say they will respond within one business day. They do! I found their Customer Support personnel friendly and very knowledgeable about the products they create, sell and support. If you have a question about their product, you will get a quick and complete response. If, however, you have a specific legal question, they are not attorneys and they will tell you to talk to a lawyer.
How Much Does it Cost?
Legalzoom’s prices are very reasonable when compared to having a lawyer do your will for you. It will save you a lot of time, hassle, and money. They have three levels of will preparation services. For $69, they offer their Standard will package. This includes:
- A comprehensive, customized last will and testament,
- A “Peace of Mind Review” by a Legalzoom documentation specialist*
- Advanced provisions such as credit shelter trusts,
- Free revision for 30 days, and
- Your will printed on archival paper.
For $99, their Gold package adds to the above services:
- Free unlimited revisions for 5 years
For $119, their Vault package adds to all of the above services:
- Secure electronic storage for 5 years,
- Same-day preparation, and
- Express E-mail delivery
*Note that your will is not reviewed by an attorney.
Same-day processing can also be purchased separately with any of their packages for an additional $20. Without same-day processing, your will should be mailed to you within 48 hours and you should receive it in 3-5 business days.
If you are married or in a domestic partnership recognized by your state, Legalzoom offers your spouse or partner the opportunity to create a “mirror will” which more or less mirrors your own will, at a discounted price. Your partner’s will will be customized for him or her.
Creating a Will Online
I used Legalzoom to create a fairly simple will, leaving most of my assets to my spouse, some jewelry to my daughter, naming a guardian for both of my children, creating children’s trusts and choosing a property guardian and trustee for my children’s inheritance. Once you log in to have your document created, your work is saved so you can always finish it later. Logging in is free and easy.
You are asked a series of questions including what state you live in, whether you’re married, have children, your family members’ names, your beneficiaries’ names and the guardian for your minor children. Help is offered all along the way; a “Help” icon appears on the screen with many of the questions and clicking on it will give you more information about the subject matter asked about in that question. A toll-free number and an email address are also offered for further assistance.
In general, I found the questions straightforward and fairly easy to answer. Someone who has never created a will before, however, might experience some difficulties. One area where the program is lacking a bit of clarity is informing you how to prepare for answering the interview questions. Creating a will is not a simple task unless you already have certain information at your fingertips: what you own, names of beneficiaries, a guardian for your minor children, an inventory of your assets, a property guardian for your children’s inheritance, at what age you would like your children to have access to their inheritance, and who will be your executor. It is essential that you gather all of this information and get organized before attempting to answer the questions to make your will, whether you are using Legalzoom, another product or seeing an attorney.
One confusing interview question I came across was how I would like to distribute my estate. If you are married, Legalzoom only gives you two choices—everything to your spouse, or gifts to be distributed among many people with a percentage to each. I was stuck because I wanted to leave almost everything to my spouse with one specific exception, and I didn’t know which one to pick. If you choose “all to your spouse”, there appears to be an opportunity to leave specific gifts to individuals, but that turned out not to be the case. I found out when I received my will, that no, you cannot leave specific gifts to individuals if you make this choice. The specific gift I left to my daughter would go to my spouse first, and to my daughter when my spouse dies. That is not what I intended.
One other problem was that I wanted to name two people (a married couple) to be the co-guardians of my children. There was only space for one to be named, with first and second alternates in case that guardian cannot or will not serve.
Beyond these issues, I found the website very easy to navigate, and completed the interview questions in about an hour. Once I submitted the form to Legalzoom, I heard back from them with an e-mail acknowledgement within minutes, and with another e-mail the same day, about 6 hours later, to let me know my order had been completed. I received my will 3 business days later, as promised.
Results The will came in a folder along with two booklets. One is a Guide to Your Last will and Testament which explains the next steps for making your will legal and binding, gives tips on storage of your will, and then clarifies various will clauses. The booklet also gives some guidance on getting your financial affairs in order. The second booklet is a Property Worksheet, which helps you to list out all of your assets, liabilities, beneficiaries, and to figure out your net worth. This booklet would have been extremely helpful to have before preparing my will!
All things considered, Legalzoom is a well-run service and a very good value when you compare it to having an attorney-prepare your will. It is a little light on legal explanations, and a little rigid with choices, but it is otherwise easy to use and the customer service is there for the asking. Since my will does not completely express my intentions for some of my property and for guardianship, I will need to have it revised, which Legalzoom will do for free within 30 days. If you choose to use this program to create a will or other estate planning documents, you should have an attorney look over the finished product before signing, just to be certain that it accomplishes your estate goals and complies with the laws of your state.