The Online Canned Living Trust | Buyer Beware

An online living trust may seem like a great deal at a fraction of the cost of an estate planning attorney. These virtual fill-in-the-blank trust kits have risen in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although some estate planning attorneys may disagree, there are some online trusts that work for small estates with simple transfers. Betting your estate on an online trust can be a huge gamble so be sure you understand the risks of buying an online kit. For many estates it may become a can of problems for the trustees and beneficiaries of your estate.

A cottage industry for lawyers is evolving dedicated to disputes over online trusts. They’re happy to come across a canned trust when advocating for their client who wants to start a dispute over the estate. Litigation attorneys know the vulnerabilities of computer-generated trusts. Often these products don’t comply with laws which vary from state to state.  Canned trusts are far more susceptible to attack than trusts drafted by attorneys licensed in the state of domicile. If your family is not harmonious now, there’s no reason to think they’ll be any different when the parents are gone. These families should consider planning the transfer of wealth with the advice of counsel.

Estates that are larger in value, involve real estate, business interests, and out-of-state property, are all examples of estates that should receive extra attention not available with an online trust.

Families, estates, and relatives come in all shapes and sizes. Thoughtful trust provisions drafted by an attorney who knows the situation is especially important for families with children from previous marriages, siblings who may disagree, opportunistic relatives and creditors, irresponsible adults, people struggling with addiction or behavioural issues, special needs requirements, frivolous spending habits, small children, vulnerable adults, etc.

One of the biggest pitfalls relates to selecting a trustee to manage or distribute the trust property. Customized trust terms crafted by a good attorney can define responsibilities and add safeguards to help an ineffective or wavering trustee stay out of trouble. Online forms can’t provide the kind of consultation and planning that’s critical for families with less than an ideal trust candidate.

Family tailored estate planning with the help of a lawyer maximizes the odds of success in the smooth transfer of wealth without family feuding, confusion, trust mismanagement, additional legal services, probate, or litigation.

Although the purchaser of the canned trust may save on up-front legal fees, the cost of a dispute can easily add up to tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Disputes over a family trust can ruin relationships and litigation costs can consume family wealth. A qualified attorney who understands the client’s situation can customize the trust language to make a formidable estate plan in light of family dynamics.

Some online trusts can work for small and uncomplicated transfers of property. The average American family, however, is anything but average and a myriad of problems can arise. Although the technology of building an online trust has become impressive, artificial intelligence is nowhere close to replacing the advice of experienced legal counsel. The advises the public to beware of the problems common to online living trusts.

Kevin Walsh

Attorney at Law

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