Pardon the interruption of our regularly scheduled “introduction to estate planning” programming for this breaking news.  I figured it was bound to happen sooner or later and now we know . . . sooner.  According to this article, Legal Zoom recently became the subject of a class action lawsuit.  The suit accuses Legal Zoom of “unfair and deceptive” business practices.  The suit alleges the deception is in Legal Zoom’s claim that “‘. . . virtually anyone'” can create a valid legal document through the site and that the ‘customized’ documents made by nonlawyers would be reviewed for ‘accuracy and reliability,’ [giving] customers a false sense of security.”  What happened in the specific situation that brought about the lawsuit?  They bought a revocable living trust, a will and a durable power of attorney that later had to be fixed by an attorney.  My colleague Candice Aiston wrote about it here.  And to be fair, you can read Legal Zoom’s response to Candice’s post here.  It’s always best to hear both sides of the story so you can form your own opinion.

I’m not making any comment about the validity of the lawsuit, or lack thereof.  However, if you’ve been reading my posts for any period of time you know that I believe online- and software-based will-making software leaves many people with a false sense of security.  The sad part is that most people don’t find out that the security is false until they die, and then it is too late! Their family is left cleaning up the mess.  Think about a child’s toy.  They come with specific pieces that are designed to fit together a certain way and their are directions telling you how to construct it.  Yet somehow, I still find a way to put it together wrong (causing untold frustration) or never getting it put together at all!  What about you?  Think about how unique each individual is . . . and each family.

An estate plan is not a cookie cutter situation and you should run (not walk) away from anyone (lawyers included) who tell you it is.  Each person, each family, is like a snowflake – unique in who they are and in the legacy they want to create and pass along to their family after they’re gone.  And that is just one of the reasons working with an attorney who specializes in estate planning is key to making sure you pass along your “whole family wealth,” and not just a set of documents that distributes your “stuff.”  Call me if you’re interested in learning more about sharing who you are and what’s important to you – making sure your values, insights, stories and experiences will benefit your family for generations to come.  It’s about far more than money.

Michael Lichterman is an attorney specializing in estate planning and helping provide peace of mind to families and businesses in Grand Rapids, Grandville, Cascade, Forest Hills, Ada, Byron Center, Caledonia, and the surrounding areas.  He specializes in the needs of professionals with minor children, doctors, lawyers,  CPAs, and those in the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), and does so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.