Attorney Thomas B. Burton answers the following question:
"Do Legal Zoom Wills Hold Up in Court?"
Want to know what type of estate planning documents are best for your situation? Download a free copy of my easy estate planning guide. Obtain Your Free Will vs. Trust Estate Planning Guide here.
Hello! I am attorney Thomas Burton and Today's question is the following:
“Do Legal Zoom wills hold up in court?”
This is a great question and one that I think comes up frequently due to the popularity of Legal Zoom and other online will maker programs and the answer to this question is it depends.
Whether you’re a Legal Zoom Will depend up in court, will hold up in court is dependent on a variety of factors. The one I see that comes up a lot, when I'm talking with other state planning professionals, attending continuing education conferences and discussing these things with lawyers who practice tests at estate litigation, is it could come down to a question of undue influence at the time the will was made. And there could also be problems with the execution of the will itself.
So let's say for a moment that you can use Legal Zoom and create a legally valid will in Wisconsin. I don't know for sure that this is true but I also haven't done it myself and I would imagine they take steps to make sure their program is compliant with Wisconsin law. So let's assume it is and you create the will and print it out. You still need to sign it in a legally valid manner and in Wisconsin, that means executing the will in front of two disinterested witnesses who are not related by blood or marriage and are not otherwise named in the will.
Now another issue can be undue influence. Let's say someone was standing over your shoulder with a gun to your head as you drafted that will, now later in court, we would not know that but the fact is they could be what we call undue influence meaning, someone was telling you, “make out this will and leave everything to me”.
So that can be an issue with the Legal Zoom Will, not in all cases, but it could come up later when challenged by a beneficiary especially if someone is having, let's put aside the gun example, let's just say they're having medical issues and they may not have been fully aware of what they were doing when they did it. So one upside, another upside to working with the lawyers, they can help assess those competency issues when the client comes in and there isn't an avenue later, for heirs who may be disgruntled to challenge this as an undue influence matter.
Returning to the issue of whether it's legally valid, you would have to discuss that question with Legal Zoom itself. And I am pretty sure they're saying our documents are valid under Wisconsin law, but in terms of whether the will, will hold up in court, that's really a question for your lawyer. And if you use Legal Zoom, you don't have a lawyer, you have the computer program working with you. So I would say if you do all the proper steps and execute it properly, it’s possible they could be upheld in court, but you won't know for sure. That's why for many people working with a lawyer makes sense who can assess all these factors at the time they sign the will and I know, with my clients, I tell them I'm not only trying to put in place a legally valid document for you now, but I'm trying to head off avoid problems in the future and I put special things in my estate plans even to discourage people from challenging the plan.
So that's another area where a lawyer can bring value to you.
Now, if you are really strapped on cash and you're looking to do it yourself, one of the options I'd mention to use, the Wisconsin legislator has created a free basic statutory will right in the legislative statutes. So anyone with a computer can access that online, print it out and use it, sign it, again you have to sign it in front of two disinterested witnesses to be valid. So make sure you read those parts of the statutes and focus on that if you decide to go that route.
So great question about whether a Legal Zoom Will holds up in court and thank you for asking.
© 2020 Burton Law LLC. All Rights Reserved. Transcript and captions provided for ease of access for the hearing impaired. For questions about this topic, or to suggest a topic for a future blog post, please contact the office.