What’s the true value of an estate planning attorney? I’ve been reading about the latest lawsuit against LegalZoom. This one is a class action filed in California by a woman who is the niece and executor of the estate of LegalZoom client Anthony J. Ferrantino. Mr. Ferrantino, in the last months of his life, used LegalZoom to draw up a will and a living trust. It turns out that the trust couldn’t be funded because Mr. Ferrantino’s financial institutions would not accept the LegalZoom documents.
Naturally, upon finding this out, Mr. Ferrantino and his niece, Katherine Webster, asked LegalZoom for help – to no avail. After Mr. Ferrantino passed away with his trust still unfunded, it turned out that his will was also invalid because it had not been properly executed. Ms. Webster’s lawsuit is based on LegalZoom’s alleged deceptive business practices and unlicensed practice of law.
So, the trust documents were flawed. Giving LegalZoom the benefit of the doubt, you could make the valid argument that even attorneys have been known to make mistakes in the drafting of estate planning documents. It’s less likely that a lawyer would let a will go out the door improperly executed. In my mind, though, these aren’t the real issues.
The problem is that when consumers use “services” like LegalZoom, they’re on their own. Even after fatal flaws were found in the trust documents, LegalZoom did nothing to remedy the situation. Would this have happened if someone had been unable to fund a trust that I had created? Nope.
The value that I as an estate planning attorneys offer to clients is not just the documents… although well-drafted and effective documents are intrinsically valuable. Instead, the value I offer is my role as knowledgeable and trusted counselors… my relationship with my clients. When clients come to me for an estate plan, I’m not just filling in the blanks on their behalf. I’m listening intently to their stories and their questions, and often reading between the lines, to help them discern their true needs. And I’m there for my clients as issues emerge and their needs evolve.
So, in the end, I’m not competing in the same market as LegalZoom and other companies of its ilk. I’m not providing a simple commodity – and my clients and prospective clients deserve to know this.
So, call me to discuss your estate planning.