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Consumer Reports – Caution on Legal Zoom

Consumer Reports has issued a Caution for users of Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer and Quicken WillMaker Plus.

We tested three electronic offerings: LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Quicken WillMaker Plus. The first two allow you to create a will online; the third is available as either a download or a CD-ROM. First we created profiles of individuals from three different New York families. Our reporter then completed the interviews as if she were those individuals, drafting nine wills in all.

We sent the wills and interview records—with product identification hidden—to Gerry W. Beyer, a professor at the Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock who specializes in estates and trusts. Beyer judged each product on how comprehensive the interviews were and how much information was provided, and on the overall quality of the wills. Our reporter evaluated the software for ease of use. See How 3 products handled 3 scenarios. for more details on the scenarios and how the products worked.

All three are better than nothing if you have no will. But unless your needs are very simple—say, you want to leave everything to your spouse with no other provisions—none of them is likely to meet your needs. And we found problems with all three.

And the conclusion.

We found one good use for these products: education. Going through the interviews forced our reporter to think about issues like, “Who should be the alternative executor?” and “Who gets your estate if your spouse and kids don’t survive you?” The information is more digestible in interview form than as straight estate law.

If you want to save time at an attorney’s office—and unless you’re paying a flat fee, time with a lawyer means money—take a practice run on either Rocket Lawyer or WillMaker Plus. Use the links and pop-ups to get more information. And you can use the prompts to prepare the inventory lists and instructions your beneficiaries and executors will need in your absence. Then call an attorney.

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