Online Wills, Legalzoom and Suze Orman Will and Trust Kit

November 13, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:36 pm

Mention Legalzoom and Suze Orman’s Will and Trust Kit and it raises my blood pressure a bit. Many attorneys and experts have spoken about the dangers of these products for unsuspecting consumers. Well, South Florida estate planning attorney, David A. Shulman, has added further evidence to the assertion that documents prepared by these “products” may not be the best for consumers.

In his blog he writes that the Wall Street Journal editorial page did a review of the two Online will packages and compared them. South Florida estate planning lawyer, David A. Shulman continues:

But there should be one and only one relevant question, and this is “Do the documents work?” In the event of her death, do the documents accomplish what she wants them to do, while minimizing taxes, protecting her heirs from creditors, and keeping administrative expenses and time and headaches to a minimum?

What’s the idiot consumer’s answer to that question?

“We didn’t hire a lawyer to review them.”

You can read David’s entire blog post here: The Wall Street Journal Totally Blows it on Online Wills. I recommend you check out his blog, especially if you are looking for a South Florida estate planning attorney.

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Myths about Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning and What You Should Do

October 28, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Living Trust,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:12 pm

There are quite a few myths regarding Trusts, Wills and Estate Planning. A recent USA Today article address some of these myths. The article interviewed two colleagues from WealthCounsel, which is a national association of estate planning attorneys.

The myths that the article addresses include:

  1. Estate planing is only for the rich.
  2. If I die without a Will, everything will go to my spouse.
  3. I have a Will, my estate wont go through probate.
  4. After I create my Last Will and Testament or Living Trust, I’m set.
  5. I could be held responsible for a deceased parent’s debts.

You can read the article in its entirety here: 5 Myths about wills, and what you should do.

While overall, the article is well written, I do have one large point of contention.  The article suggest that some of the do-it-yourself options are viable, such as Legalzoom, Suze Orman Trust Maker, or Quicken Willmaker.  Read some of my past posts on why these options can be even worse than having no estate plan at all.

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Cheap Living Trusts and Free Wills?

October 15, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:18 pm

Are you looking for a cheap living trust or a cheap will or last will and testament? Well if you are living in Ohio, there may be one less illegal trust mill taking advantage of people who are looking for a replacement to quality legal services by selling them fill in the blank garbage.

You can read more at the Florida Estate Planning blog of Jacksonville estate planning attorney David M. Goldman. Read his story here “Trust Mill Fined 6.4 Million in Ohio.”

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New Power of Attorney Law Just Muddied The Water

September 30, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Power of Attorney,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:31 pm

As a Michigan estate planning attorney, I won’t have to deal with this much, but New York has just passed a new law that made their rules regarding powers of attorney much more complicated.

Trust and Estates has an interesting write up on the statute that effects the power of attorney. You can read it here :New York’s New POA Law.  Florida Estate Planning attorney, David M. Goldman, wrote an interesting post on the New York Power of Attorney law while it was still in bill form back in February.  You can read it here : Gifting Changes Required for POA’s in NY.  Also, take a look at what New Your Estate Planning lawyer, Ellen Victor has to say about the New York Power of Attorney here: New York’s New Power of Attorney.

Part of the craziness is that a valid power of attorney must contain more than 600 words of language from the statute that are intended to better inform the principal about the serious nature of the power of attorney document.

What this means to me as a Michigan estate planning attorney?  Well, it shows just how each state has different statute, laws, court rules, and common law that effects your estate planning documents.  If you are one of those “do-it-yourselfers” who are using Suze Orman Trust Kits, Legalzoom online wills, Quicken Willmaker Software, I’d be a little worried.  Do you think these national packages contain the state specific details to make your important estate planning document valid in your state?

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Michigan Wills and Living Trust Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Michigan Estate Planning, Michigan Elder Law, and Michigan Probate Litigation, serving Metro-Detroit and Oakland County, Macomb County, and Wayne County.  We can be reached at 248-971-1700.

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The “Sneaky-Important” Estate Planning Document is the…

July 28, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Living Trust,Living Will,Medicaid Planning,Power of Attorney,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 6:45 pm

Financial Durable Power of Attorney. Many people focus their time and need only on the last will and testament (or living trust) or medical directive. How do I know? Because 9 times out of 10 when a potential client contacts us they ask for a will, living trust, or living will. Hardly anyone ever asks initially for a financial durable power of attorney (otherwise known as a DPOA).

A Michigan financial durable power of attorney allows someone else to make decisions regarding financial matters. The durable power of attorney can become effective either upon incapacity or immediately.

The purpose of the Michigan financial durable power of attorney is to allow someone else to be able handle all financial matters. This includes handling business interests, buying and selling real estate, paying bills, and even making gifts and authorizing Medicaid planning.

The Michigan financial power of attorney is a powerful document that should not be used lightly or prepared haphazardly. The drafter of the document must be careful in choosing which powers to include and which powers to exclude. Additionally, specificity is very important in the document. Many of the Legalzoom, Quicken Willmaker, or Suze Orman, do it your self documents are over broad and can be dangerous in the wrong hands to the creator. This is why it is important to see an experienced estate planning lawyer to assist you by drafting a quality financial durable power of attorney.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Bloomfield Hills Living Trusts and Wills Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Estate Planning, Trusts and Estates, and Michigan Probate Litigation.

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Heirs Sue Over Use of Will-Making Software | More Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong

June 17, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:26 pm

estateplansoftware.jpgI stumbled upon an old story about how the heirs sued because of the use of do-it-yourself estate planning software.  In this case the software was Quicken Willmaker or Quicken Family Lawyer, but it could be Legalzoom, or Suze Orman’s Trust Kit, or any other of the will and trust in a box products.

What happened was that an insurance agent was sued for “unauthorized practice of law” when he used the Quicken Willmaker software to create a will for a 91 year old woman.

This is just another case where the Nolo’s, Quicken Willmaker’s, Suze Orman Trust Kit’s, and Legalzooms of the world have caused more problems then good as people look to create their own estate plans.  This shows why many state bar’s, like Texas, have tried to ban these products because they in the end harm the consumer.

You can read the article at CNET.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Michigan Wills and Trusts Attorney, is a Partner with Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Estate Planning, Elder Law, Probate.

photo from

By the way, here are some excerpts from the case:

Continue reading “Heirs Sue Over Use of Will-Making Software | More Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong” ยป

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Estate Planning, It’s Personal

June 4, 2009

Filed under: Holistic Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:44 pm

I was reading an article and Trusts & Estates that talked about how personal estate planning is.  As a Michigan estate planning attorney, I couldn’t agree more.  The best estate planning is tailored to the personal details of client and their family.  Estate planning is not one size fits all.

The clients I most enjoy working with are the ones that open up to me and open the door to their personal lives.When I am able to make the clients comfortable and they open up more, I think I am able to provide a better service to them and it is reflected not only in their documents, but also my suggestions for legal solutions to their goals and desires.  By no means am I putting this responsibility on the clients, it is my responsibility as the professional to get the client to feel comfortable working with me, as a professional.

I need an intimate knowledge of their family dynamic to truly be able to tailor a legal plan that will fulfill their needs.  If a client is not open and comfortable, they may not bring up an event, fact, family member, that could trigger an entirely different solution set.  For example, does one of the proposed beneficiaries have a drug, or alcohol problem?  Is one of the beneficiaries going through a divorce?  Do some of the beneficiaries not get along?

I take the responsibility of making the client feel comfortable with me very seriously, as should any estate planning lawyer.  With out the necessary rapport with clients, we are no better than the legalzooms, Quicken Willmakers, or other internet drafting solution where you enter in the number of beneficiaries, and names and it drafts the estate plan for you based on faceless, impersonal facts.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Bloomfield Hills Estate Planning Lawyer

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LegalZoom is Unfair & Misleading

July 30, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:31 pm

There has been a class action lawsuit filed against LegalZoom, which is an online “document preparation” service. You can read more about the lawsuit at the Courthouse News Service.  This is no big surprise to the many estate planning lawyers and probate lawyer who stumble across people using these products.

A short snippet from the article:

Katherine Webster sued as executor of the estate of Anthony Ferrantino and trustee of the Anthony J. Ferrantino Living Trust.
Webster claims that LegalZoom’s website and advertising are premised on the misleading claim that “virtually anyone” can create a valid legal document through the site, and that the “customized” documents made by nonlawyers would be reviewed for “accuracy and reliability,” imbuing customers with a false sense of security.
“Nowhere in the manual do defendants explain that using LegalZoom is not the same as using an attorney and that its documents are only ‘customized’ to the extent that the LegalZoom computer program inputs your name and identifying information, but not tailored to your specific circumstances,” the complaint states.
Plaintiffs say they bought a living trust through LegalZoom, which was to include a revocable living trust, a will and a durable power of attorney. But Webster says the documents were flawed as a result of LegalZoom’s failures, and Ferrantino’s estate had to hire an attorney to correct the problems.

Legalzoom, Suze Orman, and Willmaker: Why They Fail

February 3, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:00 pm

As a Michigan trust attorney, I’ve blogged many times about the issues using Legalzoom, Suze Orman Trust Kit, Willmaker, or any number of the other “do it yourself” estate planning kits. Texas estate attorney Rania Combs has put together a great blog post on the topic that you should read.

You can read the post here: The Problem with Legalzoom and Other Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Solutions.

Michigan Estate Planning Basics

January 25, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,Health Care Directives,LegalZoom,Living Trust,Power of Attorney,Probate,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:02 pm

With Michigan Estate Planning, there are a few basic things that you need to know.

First, no matter what your net worth is, how much in assets you have, how much debt you have, you need an estate plan. In Michigan, once you turn 18 you are legally an adult. So, even if you’re a college age adult who lives at home with your parents, there is a certain level of estate planning that should be done. That is you need, what our office calls, a disability plan. A disability plan plans for your disability or incapacity.  We would put together a Patient Advocate Designation (which is the Michigan equivalent to a health care power of attorney), HIPAA Authorization, and a Financial Power of Attorney that most likely would name your parents as decision makers and agents.

Now that we’ve established that if you’re over the age of 18, you need the disability documents, the next step would be once you have assets (now matter how meager) or children, it is important to plan for your assets and children.  This is done through using Revocable Living Trusts and Last Wills and Testaments.  Whether you opt for a Living Trust based estate plan or a Will based estate plan will depend on your goals.  Remember a Last Will and Testament only gives instructions to the Michigan Probate court on how to administer your estate, it does not avoid probate.

Lastly, it is important to consult a Michigan estate planning attorney in preparing your estate plan.  Proper Michigan estate planning involves more than buying Nolo Willmaker software or reading the latest Suze Orman Trust Kit book.  It involves analyzing your goals and situation and using the estate planning tools we’ve discussed in the most effective and cost effective way.


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