LegalZoom sued over low-cost wills and trusts

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By Howard S. Kirkpatrick

We’ve all seen the commercials. The ones featured prominently in primetime, during sporting events, in between the news and our favorite programs. I’m talking about the commercials with former O.J. Simpson attorney, Robert Shapiro, pitching his company, LegalZoom, as the next best thing since sliced bread.

LegalZoom sells “do-it-yourself” wills, trusts and just about any other legal document you can imagine over the Internet. And, of course, they offer too-good-to-be-true prices and claim that ”virtually anyone” can create a valid legal documents using their site.

Really? Some of their customers beg to differ.

Turns out, one too many angry customers fell for their low prices and ordered living trust kits only to find out there is no way to customize the documents other than simply typing in your name and address. There is no way to change beneficiaries or direct who gets your grand piano or your grandfather’s watch. In other words, there is no way to make the document your own and ensure that your wishes are honored when you pass away.

A few months ago, one customer had enough. Katherine Webster sued LegalZoom as executor of the estate of Anthony Ferrantino. Apparently, Webster was forced to hire a lawyer to fix all the problems with Ferrantino’s trust done with LegalZoom.

Webster spent thousands of dollars for the lawyer to fix the problems so the trust would actually work when needed. Webster claims LegalZoom engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices and mislead customers with claims that their documents were of comparable quality to those prepared by an attorney. The lawsuit is a class action, meaning many more customers joined Webster. They feel cheated just the same.

Webster states in her complaint that “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.”

Why do I bring this up? I can’t emphasize enough that when it comes to protecting your hard-earned life savings and protecting your family — you must hire a qualified estate-planning attorney to do the job right.

Will it cost more than $99? Of course it will. Why would anyone believe that generic documents from a website that cost virtually pennies could protect what took a lifetime to save and build? If it were that simple to protect your nest egg, everyone would be able to do it.

Unfortunately, the children of good, hard-working Americans are wasting their time and their money suing LegalZoom instead of enjoying the legacy their parents left them. As I ask my clients: “If you had appendicitis, you wouldn’t operate on yourself, would you?” Then I beg of you, don’t be reckless with your life savings.

Howard Kirkpatrick is an estate planning/elder law attorney and owner of the Law Offices of Howard S. Kirkpatrick in Grafton. He can be reached daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 508-340-3134 or [email protected] and at www.attorneyhk.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.