The Difference between Document Vendors and Estate Planners

These days, there are many vendors of estate planning documents.  Various online sites offer “will packages” or “trust packages” at an enticingly low price.  Office-supply stores sell very inexpensive estate planning “kits” consisting essentially of fill-in-the-blank forms.  Some lawyers offer a standard, packaged “basic estate plan” for a low fixed fee.

It is critical to understand, though, that document production is not the same thing as estate planning.  Estate planning involves a lawyer getting to know clients, evaluating their assets, hearing about their families and personal situations, listening to their hopes and fears, and pointing out issues that they might not have thought of.  It also involves the lawyer educating the clients about the various options that can help the clients achieve their goals, and the lawyer and the clients working together to choose the most appropriate options for the clients’ particular situation.  This communication between a lawyer and his or her clients is the heart of the estate planning process.  Preparing documents is simply the final step in the process – the step through which the careful planning that the lawyer and the clients have done is memorialized in writing.  Be wary if someone is offering you estate planning documents without offering you actual estate planning.