Beware the Paralegal


These days, many people who have legal issues turns to the internet for solutions. If you want a will or trust, or have a probate or estate litigation matter, when you type those terms into “Google”, you often get a flood of advertisements from LegalZoom, Nolo, or other sites trying to entice you with a “free will” or “living trust for $250”. You may also see a paralegal or legal document assistance in your local area trying to earn your business for a discount fee.

So why pay an attorney high fees to create your estate plan, will or trust? Why not go to a legal document assistant or paralegal to prepare your probate forms? The answer is simple. Doing so will cost you less in the beginning but likely cost thousands if not tens of thousands more in the long run.

Take “William” for example. William created his living trust through a “paralegal”. The person claiming to be a paralegal was not one at all, but only a legal document assistant. What people don’t know is that the law has recently changed and paralegals can only offer services if they are under the supervision of an attorney. A new category of persons who create wills and trusts for clients are legal document assistants. This legal document assistant may have very little training or experience and in any event can only legally create the will or living trust document based on the specific information you give them. He or she cannot advise you on what the will or living trust can say or how you should properly plan your estate to avoid issues later with probate or will or trust contests.

William signed the living trust and had it notarized. He created a pour-over will and had it properly witnessed. He was sure he was going to avoid probate. After all he had a living trust right? What he didn’t have was a properly funded living trust. He had a document that was titled William’s Trust but he never funded it. Funding a living trust is the process of transferring assets into the trust. Why, did William not have a properly funded living trust? Because the internet program sold him a living trust but did not give him the proper advice on how to make that living trust, will and other supporting documents like an advanced healthcare directive and durable power of attorney, actually work for him.

William did not fund his home worth $300,000 in to the trust. Due to other issues with his living trust his children ending up fighting over not only the wording of the living trust but also the mismanagement of the living trust by the named trustee. In the end, there was probate that cost $9,000 and an estate litigation case that cost almost $40,000 which all went to attorneys. $49,000 was spent because William decided to pay $500 for a legal document assistant to create a document that was not properly done. Had he paid $2,500, he could has saved his children approximately $50,000 and possibly saved their relationships.

Yes attorneys are expensive. That is because attorneys spend 3 years in law school and then have to pass a very difficult, 3 day test, in order learn the law. They then usually spend most of their career learning and trying to prefect the actual practice of law and how to ensure that trusts and wills are properly administered.

While this is a proven fact, many people still often look for alternatives to paying a large attorney fee bill by looking to the quick fix offers on the internet. But all these websites will actually give you is a boilerplate will or trust and walk you through creating the documents for low prices. They do not advise you how to make the trust actually hold your assets and how the trust works. They also do not advise you about how to deal with blended families or children who do not get along. Failure to properly create a complete estate plan that is tailored to your specific family can end in expensive legal fees with the family members fighting over the terms of the living trust or will in court.

This is where actual planning comes in and why it is important for you to have an estate planning attorney assist you in creating your will or trust. That estate planning attorney can ask you important questions and give legal advice (which a website, legal document assistant or paralegal cannot legally do). It will save thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.


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