Browsing on the internet, everywhere you look there are new websites cropping up that advertise how they can help you create your own estate planning documents, file for divorce and prepare other legal documents. Some major players in the field are LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Nolo which advertise they can help create your legal documents for a fraction of the cost of hiring a lawyer.
There are some distinct differences in the types of services these online companies offer. Having been in the legal document preparation service for over 30 years, and in business long before two of these major players existed, we were interested in determining exactly what these other services offered and how they compared to the services offered by A People’s Choice.
All three services offer online worksheets to create various types of legal documents. Using each of their services, we created a basic will. The first thing I discovered was how limited the service was in the ability to customize the Will to my specifications. In the end, however, all three were able to produce a basic will, although I was not given the chance to provide for certain aspects of my estate planning in the Will in the exact way I wanted.
I then had an attorney review the three documents for an expert opinion. I was advised by the attorney that the three Wills prepared were basic and better than having no Will at all. The attorney did agree that I could have had a more customized will had I used a different service or even had an attorney or legal document assistant draft it. In my opinion, the Wills I created through the online interfaces offered by LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Nolo were not specific enough for my needs.
Unexpected Legal Consequences – What You Get May Not Be What You Needed
3/2016 Update: We recently have had first-hand experience with the unintended consequences of consumers using these types of hands-off online services. Our office was contacted to probate an estate. The representative indicated the decedent had a will. When the will was presented to our office, it was one prepared by the customer through LegalZoom’s online service. The will had not been properly generated and the customer clearly was confused about how to use the LegalZoom online system, how to create the will, and how the will was to be executed. This customer (now the decedent in our probate case) had printed screen shots of the interview process. As a result, the will ended up deficient in many of the requirements for a valid California will and was not properly executed. The decedent’s will specified how they wanted their estate distributed. The will they had prepared, however, was faulty and invalid. As a result, the estate will now have to be distributed according to the rules of intestate succession in California. Intestate Succession laws define the beneficiaries of an estate when there is no will or when the will is declared invalid. In this particular case, since the will was not a valid will, the decedent’s estate will end up being distributed to people who were not intended to receive the decedent’s estate. This is an example of the unexpected consequences of using these types of services without professional guidance and direction. The decedent saved no money using LegalZoom’s online service as compared to using the services of A People’s Choice. The decedent’s choice to create his will using this online service, however, did result in very different and unintended legal consequences, changing the manner in which the estate will be distributed.
Comparing Final Products – LegalZoom vs Nolo vs Rocket Lawyer
Nolo’s downloadable software definitely offered more options in creating my Will than Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom’s online interview process. Using the Nolo software, however, I could see how someone with little to no knowledge about estate matters could easily find themselves confused. None of the services were very flexible about important issues. For example, the Nolo’s WillMaker program only allows creating a child’s trust to age 35. After completing the Rocket Lawyer interview, I was allowed to completely edit the Will as I wanted, a feature that has the potential for someone to add clauses and make changes that could contradict other parts of the will and perhaps cause problems down the road. None of the services offered help with the signing of the will, a critical and key part that, when not done correctly, could make the will invalid.
Downsides of LegalZoom, Nolo, Rocket Lawyer and Other Online Services
Both LegalZoom, Nolo and Rocket Lawyer offer legal document preparation for other routine matters such as lease agreements, promissory notes and some divorce paperwork but the services are not complete. For people filing for divorce, Rocket Lawyer offers help with a divorce agreement but not any of the documents to actually file for divorce. LegalZoom offers help preparing state specific documents to file a divorce, but their services does not include any local forms required by many of the California courts. The local forms will vary from county to county and are not uniform. Nolo Press offers a book to help guide you through a California divorce, but does not provide any document preparation services. None of these services offer any other type of help such as filing the paperwork. When you use LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer or Nolo, your will also be required to file all paperwork, sort through instructions and maneuver your case thru the court process. This often results in the person having to make several trips to the local self-help center for further direction.
Bottom line. Nolo Press vs LegalZoom vs Rocket Lawyer all offer online help to prepare basic legal forms. There services might be cheaper than a lawyer, but are very restrictive; and other options are available.
A People’s Choice Offers Best of Both Worlds
A People’s Choice offers the same type of legal document services as Nolo, Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer, but the scope of our services are more comprehensive, flexible and complete. When you hire A People’s Choice, you will not only have your legal documents prepared, but we will help you make sure the documents are properly signed and processed through every step of the way.
How do we compare in our Will preparation services? A People’s Choice reviews each and every aspect of the terms of your Will one-on-one as it is prepared. We address a multitude of options and variations available so that your Will is created with the exact terms and conditions you want for your estate. You will receive a draft for review and have an opportunity to make any necessary changes or adjustments before it is signed. California requires Wills to be signed in front of two witnesses which we provide when the document is finalized. A People’s Choice will make sure that your Will is properly executed according to California law.
A People’s Choice offers an online interview interface for many of our services as well as telephone interviews for those we don’t. In addition, we offer courtesy filing of all documents we prepare with the appropriate court or other agency, set any required hearings, record documents, and monitor cases to completion. When you compare our fees to those offered by these other online services, you will see there is little cost difference for these added-value services.
Some consumers find it helpful to consult with a lawyer for preliminary advice before seeking the services of a non-attorney document preparation service. LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer both offer consultation services by lawyers. These services typically offer little cost-savings as compared to a local lawyer you can actually meet with through a Lawyer Referral Service. Most attorney’s offer a free consultation. This alone makes us question why someone would want to pay for a 30 minute consultation thru LegalZoom or sign up for a monthly subscription with Rocket Lawyer when your local Lawyer Referral Service can often direct you to a local attorney who offers a free or low-cost consultation.