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Using online will preparation may be a critical error

Money is tight, and your plans for retirement depend on your frugal living. You may be used to looking for bargains and pinching pennies, but you also don't want to end up with a product that is cheap but poor quality.

One way in which you may be considering saving money is in your estate planning. You know you need a will, but the thought of hiring an attorney for such a simple document seems wasteful. So, what about those websites that prepare wills and other legal documents for a fraction of the cost? The truth may surprise you.

Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware!

While the marketing of many online will preparation sites makes it seem like a roomful of lawyers are personally drafting the critical plan for your estate, this is not likely the case. Many of these services have software that generates generic wills that clerical workers fill in with your specifications. Because a lawyer may provide these templates, the website can get away with calling them "attorney prepared." In all likelihood, an attorney never sees your will.

This may prove important because online document preparers using generic forms may not include legal provisions necessary for a Tennessee court to accept the will as valid. Your heirs may be the ones to discover this when you have passed, and they must deal with the probate of your estate and a questionably prepared will.

The fine print is often a telltale sign that something is amiss. For example, the website may caution you to consult an attorney or remind you that the service they offer does not replace the advice of an attorney.

Keep it to yourself

Undoubtedly, you understand the importance of attorney-client privilege. You would certainly think it unethical if your attorney sold your private information to a marketing company so that you would begin to receive junk mail, email spam and phone calls from people trying to sell you things. Nevertheless, many online will preparation sites do just that. Here again, the fine print will disclose their intentions to pass along any information you willingly provide in their online forms. They make their money in this way.

By contrast, your attorney will keep your private information private. You can have the confidence that your documents are prepared according to state laws, and you will have the satisfaction of a personal encounter with a compassionate professional who will guide you through the complex steps of preparing your estate in the most efficient manner for your circumstances.

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