What are some ways to reduce the hassle of estate planning? Are there ways that a wills and trusts lawyer can improve convenience for his client without reducing the effectiveness of his representation? What about the use of LegalZoom, prepared fill-in-the-blank wills or other discount online services?
It is my belief that estate planning is fundamentally important for most people (previous posts here and here), but can be an involved process to do correctly for both the attorney and the client. No two estate plans (generally comprised of a will, powers of attorney and advanced medical directive) are the same and a good estate planning attorney functions both to inform the client about the law and to devise a plan that meets the clients goals based on discussions with them and the attorney’s knowledge of the applicable laws. One of the major hurdles that holds people back from completing their estate plan is finding the time to: choose an appropriate attorney (some tips here), discuss the estate planning process with their attorney and set up and attend meetings with the attorney. Through the use of a Virtual Law Office, some estate planning lawyers including myself have attempted to address this convenience problem.
Virtual Law Office
A Virtual Law Office is a web-based system offered by an attorney to provide legal advice and services at the convenience of the client. A Virtual Law Office can be simple or complex, offering a variety of technology solutions from online chat to document automation, but the primary purpose is to provide clients with secure convenient access to an attorney. The Virtual Law Office that I currently offer provides a secure project space dedicated to each individual matter where my clients can access documents, post questions or comments for me to answer, facilitate real-time chat and video-conferencing and share a calendar tracking important deadlines and goals. I implemented my Virtual Law Office to provide another way for clients who may be too busy to find the time to meet with an attorney at his office to nonetheless complete their estate plan. With a Virtual Law Office, my clients can review documents or follow-up questions from me when they have the time to do so and can post questions or comments 24/7. My Virtual Law Office lets me work with clients based anywhere in Washington and reduces the time it takes to set up an estate plan by reducing the time spent scheduling meetings and driving to an attorneys office. A Virtual Law Office should not reduce access to your attorney, in fact it should increase your ability to discuss your estate plan and any concerns or questions you might have (either over the phone, real-time chat, through posting questions, etc).
Why not use LegalZoom or a cheap fill-in-the-blanks will?
Utilizing a virtual law office takes the hassle and inconvenience out of the estate planning process but not the attorney. Using a LegalZoom-like service (or cheap prepared documents) are inexpensive but they are NOT legal providers. They specifically state multiple times that they are not providing legal services and that you should seek an attorney if you have any legal questions regarding the documents they sell you. In most cases, it would be more expensive to purchase a will on such a website and pay an attorney to review it to make sure it meets your specific needs than it would be to go straight to an attorney in the first place. Your individual situation and estate planning goals probably are not exactly like anyone else and a one-size-fits-all approach to your estate plan is likely not the best solution (or potentially not even remotely wise from a legal standpoint). One of the primary goals of your estate plan should be to simplify the process of handling your estate according to your explicit wishes, but a form will probably does not have the sophistication to properly cover everything you would like it to and it may end up leaving your beneficiaries and personal representative having to guess (or at least spend more time figuring out) what your wishes were.
I offer both traditional legal services provided face-to-face (with the added convenience of meeting at your home or office if you desire), Virtual Law Office services and a combination of the two. I firmly believe that the majority of people need an estate plan but unfortunately a large percentage have not established one. By reducing the inconvenience factor as well as offering complete estate planning service at very reasonable fixed fee rates, I hope that I can reach out to more families and individuals who just haven’t got to crossing their will off their “to-do” list.
If you have any questions for me or would like to set-up a free initial consultation regarding your estate plan, please contact Ryan Velo-Simpson, Estate Planning Lawyer or call me at 206-660-9401, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your information using the form on the left.