DIY Legal Documents May Not Be As Effective As You Think

A few years ago US News & World Report wrote an article about the hazards of DIY (do it yourself) Estate Planning. The author addressed the particular challenges of self-created wills, powers of attorney and other documents. The article found that while there are some benefits to DIY documents, there are often hazards that don’t get discovered until it’s too late. In the time lapse since that article was published, little has changed, except for the increased availability of online “resources” encouraging laypersons to create “their own” legal documents (and then making draft documents available for a price that seems so much less expensive than having an attorney prepare the same document).

Buyer beware: you often get what you pay for. A low-priced defective document is defective, and just because you found it online does not mean it will be adequate for the purposes you intend.

Unfortunately, we in the practice of law regularly see the down side of these online and self-created legal documents. For example, a document we recently reviewed at client request clearly didn’t accommodate the unique laws of Virginia, and would never have stood up in a court case or even withstood a clerk’s scrutiny for a routine filing. Thank goodness they asked for an attorney review of it! This situation – explaining to a client that the document they proudly obtained from the internet is defective in our state – occurs on a regular basis. Please know that just because the approach worked for a neighbor or friend, doesn’t mean it’s the best scenario for you.

In the end, that online document may end up costing you far more than you could imagine. There’s an old saying in journalism, that it’s “easier to edit than to write.” When it comes to legal documents specifically for your unique needs, that’s just not the case. In fact, most often you’re better off having an original legal document developed just for you, instead of trying to apply someone else’s legal advice to your need.

This is true whether you need a business contract, a partnership agreement, a prenuptial agreement, will or power of attorney. The laws of Virginia are complex and our attorneys are professionals who have a deep understanding of the law, and how to investigate and resolve challenging issues and situations. Just as we don’t fix our own teeth or perform our own surgeries, when it comes to legal documents, go to the professional.

If you have any questions about your legal documents, please give us a call or contact us for an appointment.

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