This Thanksgiving our “funny” card addressed the ongoing discussion on artificial intelligence and whether new (AI) technology can replace an estate planning attorney. With the increased coverage of artificial intelligence (AI) and all the applications it can have in our everyday lives, some people may wonder whether an AI program can create an estate plan. While AI may generate basic estate planning documents, including wills and trusts, there is no guarantee they will be valid and enforceable. Providing accurate information and executing the documents in compliance with your state's laws is critical. Otherwise, your documents will not work as intended. Most people do not have the legal knowledge necessary to determine what clauses and language should be included in a will or trust to accomplish their estate planning goals. They also are not familiar with state laws or how to comply with them. This is why people rely on experienced attorneys to prepare the documents to carry out their wishes.
Some state laws are complex and hard to understand, and you may not know enough to offer the correct information about your situation or verify that AI has properly generated or created your will or trust. Additionally, your final documents may contain wording, formatting, and grammatical errors that make them unenforceable. To review them carefully, and know what to look for, often requires that you possess a certain level of legal education and knowledge. The (AI) program does not understand your situation and will not help you solve a complex legal issue unless you provide additional information. Even then, you should be cautious and ask yourself these questions:
Online estate planning programs that use artificial intelligence are designed to streamline or automate the process, making it more accessible and cost-effective for those on a tight budget. While they may provide convenience and accessibility, they provide limited guidance, and they do not offer the same level of customization, legal expertise, and personalization that experienced estate planning attorneys can provide.
Carefully consider your needs and circumstances before choosing one of the many online estate planning programs, such as:
Each program requires you to answer questions to tailor various legal documents, such as wills, trusts, advance directives, powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents, based on the information you provide. You may have trouble providing accurate and specific answers for several reasons:
If you do not understand which estate planning strategies should be implemented to address your unique situation, how can you ensure that the software is creating the appropriate documents for your needs? Legal professionals have the expertise and training to ensure that your concerns are addressed and can implement an adequate estate plan so your wishes can be legally carried out. That is why it is so important to perform your due diligence when choosing your estate planner. Like everything in life, there are good and bad.
While a basic online will may be a viable option for some, an experienced attorney is helpful in these circumstances.
If you have remarried and have children from a previous relationship, you must create a will or trust that ensures that your money and property are distributed in a way that considers both your new spouse and children from the prior relationship. You may have to make complex decisions, which may be difficult to evaluate without legal advice.
If you are a family with a dependent child or an adult with special needs, establish a special needs trust to provide for the ongoing care and financial support of your loved one while still maintaining their eligibility for government assistance programs. This requires a custom strategy to consider your options and ensure that your trust is legally compliant in your state to accomplish your goals.
If you are an individual with a large estate subject to estate taxes, you will want to understand the latest tax-saving strategies, such as gifting, trusts, or other legal tools to minimize estate tax liabilities and preserve a greater legacy for heirs.
If you are a business owner looking to pass your business on to the next generation or sell it upon retirement, you will need a comprehensive plan that effectively addresses the shift in ownership, management, and business property for a smooth and successful transition.
If you have real property in different states, heirs may be subject to estate administration processes across multiple jurisdictions, which will require consideration of different state laws and potential tax implications. Having property and heirs in other countries creates even more complexity.
If you have concerns about potential creditors coming after your hard-earned money while you are alive or creditors or ex-spouses taking the inheritance of your beneficiaries (spouse, children, loved ones, etc.) after your death, you will need an estate plan that has been specifically crafted to protect your life savings from potential creditor claims and legal challenges. This plan will need to contain specialized provisions and must be created in a manner that complies with the law to ensure that it is legally valid.
If you want to include charitable giving as part of your estate plan, it may require establishing charitable trusts, foundations, or other organizations to support specific philanthropic causes while maximizing tax benefits. Each organization will have rules about gifts you must follow to avoid negative consequences.
Estate planning attorneys help to avoid these common mistakes in online documents that could make them unenforceable, require a court to interpret them, or lead to fighting among your loved ones: This is why we stress “words matter”.
There are many considerations and potential scenarios that should be included in your estate plan. Online legal programs cannot adequately address unique situations or additional estate planning details, exposing you to unnecessary risks.
Experienced estate planning attorneys address the unique needs and goals of every individual and play a vital role in designing and reviewing state-specific forms. Good estate planning attorneys will educate you about your situation and allow you to make informed decisions.