Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Estate Planning in the Popular Press: Software for Writing a Will

Last week's New York Times has an interesting article ("In Using Software to Write a Will, a Lawyer Is Still Helpful," here) about estate planning software.

The Times's Tara Siegel Bernard tested four different software programs that enable a person to "write" his or her own will by answering a series of questions and inputting financial and personal data. 

Bernard found that the software programs, which included "WillMaker," "Legacy Writer" and "BuildaWill," produced a surprisingly varied set of documents.  She says she needed to talk with a good-old-fashioned human being to actually understand some of the legalese -- and to appreciate the decisions she was being asked to make about disposing of her property.

Bernard also learned through her will-writing exercise that there are particular requirements for executing a valid will. She reports that certain programs are better than others in explaining these requirements.

The conclusion of Bernard's article captures the essence of why talking to an attorney makes sense when it comes time to prepare your estate plan:
Of course, humans are also fallible, and some lawyers said they had seen poorly written wills drafted by professionals. But a computer program can’t ask you about your family relationships or tease out complex dynamics, like your daughter’s rocky marriage. Still, the biggest risk might be summed up by Phillip J. Kenny, a lawyer in McLean, Va., who said that one client came back to him after looking at a software package and said, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”