Legal disagreements are a part of life – whether in individual or business matters. Sometimes those disagreements require the decision of a judge in court (litigation). However, some matters can avoid the courtroom by using Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
What Is ADR?ADR encompasses methods of settling a legal disagreement outside of the courtroom. There are several methods including conciliation, negotiation, neutral evaluation, mediation and arbitration.
However, the most common methods are mediation and arbitration, which we will address here.
Types of ADRMediation is a type of ADR in which a neutral third party called a mediator helps the disputing parties resolve their disagreement. Usually, mediation is informal and the disputing parties can work together to find a solution. The mediator does not make a final decision or determine who is “right and wrong.” Instead, the mediator helps the two groups come to a voluntary settlement.
Learn more about mediation here.
Arbitration involves a third party who acts as the “judge,” and whose decision is final. During this formal process, the two parties involved submit documents for review, but are not involved in making a decision. Benefits for Businesses & IndividualsThere are several benefits to ADR for both individuals and businesses.
Individual ADR could cover:
Business ADR could cover:
This list is not exhaustive, but gives a broad range of possibilities.
Do you think ADR might be a good option for your dispute – or want legal counsel to determine if it is? The lawyers at SLN Law can help you decide, as well as navigate your dispute.
Contact SLN Law for more information.
Small business owners face the risk of making legal mistakes every day. They are required to make quick decisions. Few step into the role with experience as manager, employee, director of operations and head of sales – just to name a few of the hats you’re expected to wear.
Avoid the following four legal pitfalls by carving out time for preparation and legal guidance. It could be invaluable in the long run.
Legal Mistake #1 – Failing to Organize & Register the Business Entity
Entrepreneurs may put off creating a business entity due to cost or lack of experience with the process. However, forming the entity can legally separate business liabilities from personal assets and provide a level of protection to both.
There are many resources available to teach first-time business owners about the difference between legal structures, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations. Once a legal structure is selected, business owners are then responsible for adhering to federal and state regulations around registering for operation.
Business attorneys can guide owners through the process or handle it entirely. Either way, it is crucial to complete every step, so that the business is not open to future liability.
Legal Mistake #2 – Not Putting Agreements in Writing
Never work without a written contract. It forces all parties to agree to exact terms. However, contracts do require time to work through and finalize.
Small business owners may justify “handshake deals” because they are engaging known vendors and contractors. In practice, if an issue in these circumstances goes to court, it typically ends up as a “he said/she said” fight with no guarantee of how it will resolve.
Business owners can work with their lawyer to establish a standard contract template that reflects the parties a business regularly works with – vendors, contractors, employees, customers, etc.
The clearer the contract, the easier it is to enforce if the business ends up in court for any reason.
Legal Mistake #3 – Failing to Protect Brand & IP
Many small business owners do not distinguish intellectual property (IP) with its unique categories or take time to determine how to best protect each type.
Do not wait until a competitor attempts to steal the “secret sauce” or claim rights to it. It will likely be too late to secure legal protection.
An easy first step is to inventory both current IP assets and the intent for future IP development, and then create a plan to protect it all appropriately.
Legal Mistake #4 – Not Preparing for Employment Issues
Taking on employees is a major milestone for small businesses. Good employees will help fast-track business growth. Subpar employees may intentionally or unintentionally undermine business objectives. The worst-case scenario is when bad employees become legal liabilities due to harassment, theft, or other legal issues that require time and money to resolve.
Avoid this problem by developing a legal strategy in advance that addresses all the relevant laws around hiring, managing and dismissing employees. This strategy should include creating an employment policy that covers terms of employment, disciplinary procedures and procedures for filing and dealing with complaints.
Hiring the right employees is important, but issues arise unexpectedly. Preparing for them in advance is the best way to protect business interests.
If you have questions related to business or employment law, you can call us at (781) 784-2322 or book a free consultation.
Whether your business is still just an idea, or you are going full steam ahead with active customers, it is never too early to think about legal protection for your business name, logo, tagline, or other distinctive words or images your customers associate with your product or service. One relative easy thing you can do as soon as you have begun using those words or images publicly is apply for trademark protection.
What a trademark is: Once you begin using a name or a logo (a "mark") in business, you have some protection for that mark even if you do not register for trademark protection, if you are the first to use the mark and if it does not violate another company's registered or established mark. The danger is that those are two very big "ifs," and you might find yourself building a following around your brand name only to be met with a cease and desist letter from some company you have never heard of who had previously registered that trademark- something that has happened to at least one business we know of in recent years.
Why register a trademark: Registering a trademark will do 3 things for you:
How do you know if you can get a trademark: In order to get trademark protection, your mark must be distinctive, not generic. For example, you cannot trademark the word "food," but trademarks have been granted for names like "myfoods," "bliss foods," and "food made fabulous." If you have a distinctive logo, that can also be protected, with or without words. You can do a quick search on the USPTO trademark database to see if your business name or tagline is trademarked by somebody else- even if it is, it is worth further inquiry. If a name is registered for a different category of goods or services than what you provide, it may still be possible to register your mark, though this can be a little more complex and will require you to demonstrate to the USPTO that your use of the mark in your area would not cause customers to be confused about the two brands.
How to apply for a trademark: You can apply on your own using instructions from the USPTO. The filing fee is $250 for each classification you are seeking protection in. For example, if you were to register "xyz foods" as only "staple food products," you would pay one filing fee, but if you wanted to register it also under "meat and processed food products," you would pay a second filing fee. If you choose to only do one, all that means is that you only have protection in that classification, and someone else might be able to come along and register "xyz foods" under the second classification.
Does a trademark protect written or creative work? Generally, creative work is covered by a separate body of law known as copyright law. Similar to trademarks, a common law copyright ownership attaches as soon as you create and publish your work (a story, picture, movie, song, etc.), but your ability to protect and enforce those rights (and to establish your authorship and timing of publication) is much easier if you register the copyright, which is a separate process from registering a trademark. where this can get confusing is with logos- are they creative works subject to copyright or a mark subject to trademark? The simplest answer is that the difference is whether the image is used in commerce to identify your company or your brand (as opposed, for example, to an image created to augment content on the website, not necessarily to identify your company- think infographics or other images used to illustrate a point).
A note about copyright: Just because protection for creative works is distinct from trademark protection for your brand doesn't mean you shouldn't worry about it. Images that you get from the internet, unless you have gotten them from a service that has already paid royalties or owns the images itself, could be subject to someone else's copyright, which means at some point the owner of that image could demand that you take it down and/or seek royalties for your use of the image. Additionally, many if not most small business owners who hire a graphic designer to create images for them do not think through or clarify with the designer what rights they have to the images after the engagement is complete. From the business owner's perspective, an agreement that specifies that the whole project is "work for hire," meaning the intellectual property belongs to the company hiring out the work, is ideal. But remember that a designer might have a legitimate desire to limit the rights in the work, for their own use as well as to keep the business owner from taking their work to a competitor to augment or incorporate in other designs.
To hire a lawyer or not? You can register a trademark on your own, especially if you find no evidence the name is taken by someone else, in which case your only cost is your time and the filing fees to the USPTO. There are also online services that offer filing packages and a basic search for existing marks. What is missing from both of those is a specific legal analysis of the likelihood that your mark will be accepted if there are other, previously trademarked names or logos that are similar to yours. This could leave you out the $250 filing fee (or more if you are seeking multiple classifications) if the USPTO rejects your application as too similar to another registered mark. In contrast, knowing ahead of time that the mark will be challenging to register could lead you to revise your words or images to facilitate the trademark process, which is always easier to do early in your business life before a wide base of your customers have gotten to know your visual brand.
Additionally, because you can get into dangerous waters without even knowing to be concerned about it (see discussion about copyright above), you would be advised to have at least an initial consultation with a lawyer early in the process so that you can be on the lookout for issues that could cause problems down the road, and take proactive steps to protect yourself.
One of the first questions people have when they lose a job is "can I get unemployment?" Unemployment benefits are a safety net that most people have used at one point or another, but there are a lot of common misunderstandings about how these benefits work and who is eligible. Here are the top 5 myths about unemployment in Massachusetts:
If I am fired for cause I cannot collect unemployment: This is not true, except in certain circumstances. You will only be denied unemployment benefits if you were fired for deliberate misconduct. Deliberate misconduct includes intentional behavior against the employer's interest or violation of a clear and uniformly enforced policy. It does not include alleged poor performance, employee negligence, or absence or tardiness for legitimate reasons (so long as the employer is notified- a "no call/no show situation without a compelling reason could be found to be deliberate misconduct).
If I accept a severance payment I have to wait to collect unemployment: This is only partially true, and only in the rare situation where an employer provides a severance payment without requiring you to sign a release of potential claims in return. Most severance agreements include a release (if you are not sure what to look for, it is generally a long and dense paragraph with references to dozens of statutes saying you release, discharge, and/or hold the employer harmless for those claims). If you have signed a release, the money you receive is not considered salary continuation, but instead the money you were paid in exchange for the release, and it does not count against your unemployment. This means if you have a severance agreement with release of claims, you could be collecting the payments from your employer under that agreement at the same time you are collecting unemployment benefits. You may have to show the severance agreement to the DUA, and you may be initially denied, but ultimately you should be entitled to benefits.
I should accept my employer's offer to resign instead of having a termination on my record: Be very careful about this. If you leave employment voluntarily, and cannot show that it was due to cause attributable to your employer, you may be denied unemployment benefits. In contrast, a termination "on your record" is in reality only on the record in your personnel file with your former employer, which itself has some privacy protections. Unless you anticipate applying for a job within the same organization or company, it is highly unlikely that a prospective employer will ever see the stated nature of your termination. Also, a little known fact is that the information you and your employer submit to the DUA in connection with an application for unemployment benefits is confidential and protected by statute, and not a public record. If you have tendered a resignation explicitly in lieu of termination, when you apply for unemployment you should state not that you resigned but that you accepted a resignation in lieu of termination, so the DUA knows it was not actually a voluntary termination.
I can't collect unemployment because I was paid as a 1099/independent contractor: This would be true if you were properly classified as an independent contractor under Massachusetts law, but the truth is that most people paid as 1099 employees should be considered W2 employees (for more information about the rules on this, click here). If, for example, your work was subject to significant supervision and control, or if you were not also in the business of offering the same services to others, or if the work you were doing was core to the employer's business, you probably should have been classified as an employee. You can apply for unemployment even if your employer claims you are ineligible- you may be initially denied, but you can request a hearing, and if the DUA finds that you met the statutory definition of an employee, you should be able to collect benefits.
Once I apply for benefits, I will get all important notices in the mail: Not necessarily! We have found many people check the box for electronic notifications without realizing that means they will not get hard copy notices of important things like hearing dates, or determinations of eligibility. More than once we have had a client whose email notifications went into a spam folder, or to an infrequently checked email account, and missed important deadlines for appealing an adverse decision or appearing for a hearing. If you check this box, make sure you are actively checking the email address you provided, including your clutter and spam folders.
You should not wait to apply for unemployment- if you are denied and later go to a hearing and are awarded benefits, those benefits will be back paid to the date you applied, not to the date of your termination. So while you may still have other questions about your termination- whether it was a wrongful termination, whether you will be held to agreements you signed at the beginning of your employment (i.e., a non compete agreement), or whether you have any recourse against your former employer- you should apply for benefits on the first date you are allowed to after your termination.
For more information, you can call us at (781) 784-2322, or book a free consultation here.
Trusts are common estate planning tools to hold your assets for the benefit of some or all of your heirs instead of passing on the funds or property to them directly. They provide oversight and management of your assets, and ensure your heirs are properly supported for years to come.
If you are the one creating the trust, then you are the Grantor or Donor. You are granting control over your assets, estate, or property and defining the terms of the trust’s management and distribution.
You identify one or more Trustees, those who will be responsible for administering the trust. You can provide specific guidance to them about how you would like decisions to be made. In many cases you may serve as a Trustee during your lifetime.
You also name one or more Beneficiaries. These heirs receive the property or assets over time as you have defined. For example, you might create a trust with terms to take care of your surviving spouse while preserving the core assets for your children when that spouse dies.
Trusts are different from wills because they go into effect as soon as they are created. They can benefit those you care about during your lifetime, including yourself. However, both trusts and wills are key documents in a comprehensive estate plan.
Uses of a Trust
As the Grantor, you can manage your assets during your lifetime and define how your estate will be allocated upon your death. You may even benefit directly from the trust during your lifetime depending on the particular agreement. This can be important if you ultimately need long-term care.
Trusts do not go through probate court, which can be costly in terms of both money and time. Assets within a trust will be available to your heirs after your passing, instead of needing to wait to pass through the probate process.
Other valuable uses are to provide for children until they are ready to manage the assets themselves, to support dependents with special needs without disrupting government benefits, and to protect your financial legacy from creditors.
Trusts can also be used to avoid family conflicts because the terms within the trust remain private, unlike your Will.
Selecting the Right Trust
An experienced lawyer can help you identify the type of trust that matches your long-term wishes. Some common types are:
The Bottom Line
Trusts are an important estate planning tool to protect your wealth and financial legacy. They allow you to dictate both how your assets are managed during your lifetime and how they will be distributed upon your death.
When you are ready to manage and protect your estate by creating a trust, contact SLN Law. Our estate planning team will guide you through the process of designing the trust that achieves your goals.
If you haven’t already incorporated a trust into your current estate plan, consider doing so as soon as possible.
Trusts are powerful tools when it comes to protecting your wealth and financial legacy for designated loved ones. But what does a trust do, exactly? A trust’s basic purpose is to allow an assigned third party to hold an estate’s assets for a beneficiary. Here’s how this arrangement can ultimately benefit both you and your successors in the long run.
Trusts Help You Avoid Probate
A trust that is made by a grantor while he or she is still alive, which is referred to as a “living trust,” can help prevent the assets from going through probate court after the grantor’s death.
Probate, the process of determining a will’s validity, can be an extremely long, public and expensive process. Bypassing it will help protect your family’s privacy and funds.
Trusts Play a Role in Estate Tax Reduction
For example, if you choose to create an irrevocable life insurance trust, you can prevent any property inside the trust from being taxed after you pass away. Here’s what you can expect:
When you transfer assets into an irrevocable trust — a trust that cannot be modified or revoked — you are removing the added value the assets bring from your estate. Therefore, you no longer own these assets. This means that they are permanently given to the designated trustee and beneficiaries. After you pass away, they will not be subject to any estate taxes.
While the same rules do not apply to revocable trusts, because, you still own the assets that you place into a revocable trust, revocable trusts are extremely useful and help minimize any potential taxes by classifying assets under specific exemptions allowing a predetermined amount of assets to pass tax-free..
They Protect Assets from Creditors and Lawsuits
The idea of losing a significant portion of your money from a lawsuit or surrendering it to creditors can be alarming. Thankfully, irrevocable trusts also provide trusted asset protection.
After a grantor gives up ownership and access to his trusts, they can no longer be reached by creditors. Why? For the same reason that trusts are able to reduce estate taxes. The grantor no longer owns the assets. Spousal lifetime access trusts and domestic asset protection trusts are often used for this purpose.
If you think opening a trust is right for your estate plan, then it’s time to talk with the professionals at SLN Law. Our estate plan and trust experts will help you choose the right trust option that will provide the greatest benefit to both you and your family. Contact us today!
Changes to the overtime rules that were supposed to go into effect in December 2016 are now modified and finalized and scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2020. According to the Department of Labor, 1.3 million workers across the country will become newly eligible for overtime premium pay when the rule takes effect.
If you own or manage a small business in Massachusetts, these changes will almost certainly affect you, so it is important to understand the new rules.
The Cost of Getting Overtime Pay Wrong
If an employee files a lawsuit claiming they should have been paid time and a half for overtime hours and wins, you could be liable for t two or three times the unpaid amounts, as well as both your legal fees and your employee's attorneys' fees. This can literally transform saving $500 in overtime pay into a five figure expense for your business. So it is important that you understand the rules- old and new- and how they could affect you and your business.
Under the old rules, employees were exempt from overtime if they (i) were paid on a salary basis (the same amount each week or biweekly pay period); (ii) earned at least $455 per week, or a little over $23,000 per year; and (iii) performed duties considered “exempt” under overtime law (more on exempt duties further down).
The “salary basis” and “exempt duties” requirement has not changed, but the minimum earnings to be exempt from overtime have gone from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $684 per week ($35,568 annually). This means any employee who does not make at least $684 per week is not exempt from overtime, without regard to any of the other requirements.
The second change allows an employer to bring employees up to the minimum salary through the use of non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments, so long as those payments do not represent more than 10% of the employee’s salary.
Why The New Overtime Rules Are Important
Prior to the implementation of the new rule, virtually every employee in Massachusetts met the salary minimum to be considered exempt from overtime, as $455 per week for a 40 hour week is less than $12 per hour, the current minimum wage in Massachusetts. The new minimum is the equivalent of a little over $17 per hour, so there should be plenty of workers in Massachusetts who right now earn enough to be exempt from overtime but will not by January 1, 2020. This means for anyone earning less than the minimum amount, they will have to be paid overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week no matter what their salary arrangement and no matter what kind of job they do for your company.
Why The Old Rules Still Matter
The minimum salary is only a piece of the analysis. What has not changed are the old rules that also require the employee to receive regular, consistent amounts, and to be engaged in duties that are considered exempt. This means that even if your employees are salaried, they may or may not be exempt from overtime.
The list of specific exemptions under Department of Labor regulations is lengthy, but in broad strokes someone is exempt (meaning they do not have to be paid premium rates for overtime) if they are a licensed professional (think lawyer, doctor, CPA, some nurses and some social workers), executive (supervising and managing at least two employees) or administrative (someone who supports the business in a role like HR and exercises independent judgment on matters of significance). If you are in doubt about your employees’ duties and whether they are exempt, it is important to consult a lawyer because the lines are not always clear between “exempt” and “non-exempt” duties.
What Small Business Owners Can Do
First, look at all of the people who work for you who at times put in more than 40 hours a week. If their regular salary is less than $684 per week, without doing any further overtime analysis, you already know that you will have to either increase their base salary (or catch them up with non-discretionary bonuses or incentive pay), find a way to control whether and when they are working more than 40 hours a week, or resign yourself to paying time and a half for hours worked over 40.
You can control hours, by having and enforcing a policy that requires management approval to work more than 40 hours, and by implementing time reporting that allows you to monitor the time put in by your employees. You may occasionally have to pay out overtime if something slips through the cracks, but you can avoid having potentially owed amounts add up over a long period of time.
You can use one time payments to bring people up to the required minimum salary. Because this rule is so new, there is little guidance on how it will be interpreted, but typically a “non-discretionary bonus” is something that is tied to an objective metric- commissions, or specific amounts paid out when a person, team or department meets certain milestones in the business.
Even before the rules changed, overtime laws were often confusing for employers, especially small business owners without a full HR department or in-house counsel. We can help- give us a call at (781) 784-2322 for a free, no obligation consultation to help you understand if you need to make any changes to your employment policies before the new year.
You’re probably familiar with the adage about the only two certainties in life being death and taxes. While the taxes are their own can of worms, death is the inevitable end that all must be prepared for. This is especially the case for adults who hold specific wishes for how their estate is split up or how their children are raised in the case of their (the parents’) untimely passing.
With a will, these matters of property and childcare can be easily addressed by your will’s designated Personal Representative. Without a will, however, you will be considered as passing “intestate,” a legal term meaning “dying without a will.” Without a will, your assets will be distributed by default according to your state’s guidelines for inheritance. This process can create a great deal of difficulty for your next-of-kin, so consider the following impacts before you go even one more day without a will:
With a will in place, you are able to choose precisely how your estate, which includes all your assets such as your house, car, bank accounts, jewelry, etc., are distributed. It also dictates who receives which assets and at what time. In the absence of a will, however, Massachusetts law will govern the process of distributing your estate through their statutorily mandated intestacy laws.
This means that the law will determine who are your heirs, the people who receive your assets, and how much they each will receive. Generally speaking, if you are married with children (and all of your children are also the children of your spouse), all of your assets will go to your spouse, with no separate provision for your children. This leaves you no way to guarantee that anything will ultimately go to your children (for example, imagine your spouse remarries and has other children). In other family situations, assets will generally be divided between your spouse and children, in proportions that may not match what you want. Otherwise, the state will begin distributing assets to other direct family members, such as siblings.
Unclear Guardianship for Minor Children
The overwhelming concern that most parents have in estate planning is the care of their children in their absence. Without a will, your children’s guardians and conservators will be chosen much in the same way as your unresolved physical assets. That is, the judge, overseeing the probate of your estate, will choose who will care for your children according to a predetermined schedule of who is given priority. Without your choice memorialized in a will, the judge’s decision may be against your wishes.
Surviving spouses and ex-spouses (if they are the child’s biological parent) continue to have parental rights. If the other parent is also deceased or incapacitated, the deceased individual’s siblings may have an opportunity, followed by any further direct relatives. In any case, this process is extremely cumbersome and emotionally draining on all involved. It can be avoided, however, through the use of a well-drafted will.
Increased Cost for Your Family
Simply put, the process of probating an estate takes longer if things aren't clearly spelled out in a will. This means whoever your family hires to manage the process will have to spend more time, meaning the fees that come out of what would otherwise go to your loved ones are higher. The cost can be even further increased if there is conflict among the surviving family about assets or guardianship.
The Bottom Line
All in all, an intestate estate is not desirable given its unpredictability and its inability to legally codify your last wishes. Even if the intestate laws of your state are aligned with your wishes, laws change, your family situation may change. Choosing who cares for your children is not best left to chance. As such, the creation of a will should be a top priority for all adults, regardless of their parental or property ownership status. When you’re ready to create or update your will, contact SLN Law’s estate planning experts to learn more about what a well-drafted will should include.
Should Millennials Create Estate Plans?
As millennials – those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s – move through adulthood, many question whether estate planning is a worthwhile venture for their needs and their lifestyles. For others, estate planning simply isn’t on their radar.
To put matters succinctly – yes, creating an estate plan remains a worthwhile method for millennials to protect their most important assets both now and in the future.
Here’s why millennials should consider making an estate plan while they’re still in their 20s and 30s.
Reason #1 – Protecting an Unmarried Partner
For a variety worthwhile personal and social reasons, a large portion of millennials have chosen to forgo or delay formal marriage. Even so, many still live in committed relationships that they wish to see respected in the case of an untimely injury or death. An estate plan is an excellent method for locking down critical protections for partners not automatically covered through marital bonds.
In many cases, an estate plan can help an individual establish a partner in a key legal role, such as providing them with power of attorney or ensure their partner receives support as a designated beneficiary. Both cases are crucial to ensuring an individual’s wishes are respected with regards to the law and their partner.
Reason #2 – Provide for Charitable Causes
Perhaps more than any previous generation, millennials have been driven to service and social engagement with prosperous effects. Though many have remained socially engaged well into adulthood, few ever consider how they can perpetuate their service even after their passing. Just as in previous generations, charitable giving remains a prime method for accomplishing this goal.
Either as a bequest in a will or by way of a trust, many millennials should consider charitable causes as a worthwhile reason to create an estate plan. Doing so can help solidify a positive social impact to a worthy organization for many decades to come — even after you pass away.
Reason #3 – Addressing Digital Assets
As digital natives, many millennials have grown up holding valuable digital assets, both personal and business-related. Modern estate plans are one of the best ways to solidify the distribution of these digital assets, especially in categories where current laws lag behind evolving digital realities.
Empowering your Personal Representative to access and manage these digital assets immediately, protects the asset’s value, and makes sure they are properly managed and not lost.
The Bottom Line
In the end, millennials have plenty of viable reasons to establish an estate plan as soon as possible. When it comes to protecting your assets and wishes, only a well-crafted estate plan can provide full assurance in case of an untimely incapacitation or passing.
Individuals interested in drawing up an estate plan should contact SLNLaw today. Our estate planning services are designed to meet the diverse needs of our clients — regardless of age!
Online wills have come into vogue in recent years, with many advertising themselves as a speedy, affordable option when compared to traditional legal consultation. While these options are both convenient and cheap, they also come with a considerable amount of risk.
If the following three risks sound concerning to you, you should seriously consider creating a new, reliable will with the estate planning team at SLN Law.
Risk #1: Unintended Consequences
Online service providers usually offer Wills for all fifty states. However, laws vary from state to state. A Will that is legal in Florida may not necessarily work in Massachusetts and vice versa.
Simply put, you cannot (and should not) trust a faceless online service provider simply because they are claiming that they’ve found a way to simplify the complex process of creating a will. Before they become effective, all Wills must be found valid by the Probate Court in your state. Should your will not be accepted as valid, the court will treat you has having passed without a Will, and your estate will be subject to the intestate laws of that State, regardless of the instructions you wrote in your Will. The last thing you want is for your Will to be found invalid. Not only will your assets be distributed contrary to your wishes, but the added court costs and legal fees to straighten everything out can significantly reduce the amount left for your family.
Risk #2: Lack of Individuality
Traditional lawyers have always excelled in providing their clients with individualized legal solutions to meet their unique situations. Online wills, on the other hand, are one-size-fits-all solutions to a very important legal document. You simply cannot count on an online will to provide you with the specialized coverage your unique circumstances require.
You know your family best, and you know how different each one of your children are. Some are good with money, others need more oversight. Some are super organized, others have the best intentions but are always a bit scattered. Do you want your family vacation home to be available for the whole family for generations to come? Do you want your pets cared for in a specific way? Do you need to provide for a disabled child while ensuring their governmental benefits aren’t put in jeopardy? Online Wills either fail to provide for these circumstances or cause large legal and court fees to have your wishes followed.
Lawyers are people and stand behind their work and want to serve you for years to come. You cannot count on an online service provider to be available in the future when you need them to answer your important questions. In fact, there’s no promise that these online will services will even provide you with the requisite service before they skip town with your money. In so many words, using an online will creation service opens you to a considerable risk for loss of assets and family turmoil in the future.
Risk #3: Difficult to Modify
A will is, to some extent, a living document that should not be filed away as soon as it is made. Indeed, a will should be modified any time a core aspect of its considerations – from assets to marital status – changes in nature. Traditional lawyers make this process easy through follow-up consultations while online wills simply do not provide any opportunity to make changes after the fact.
Many changes can be made quickly and without any hassle, but they must compliment your original will and not invalidate it. A change to your Will, known as a Codicil, must also be witnessed and notarized properly for it to be effective. Simply drafting multiple new wills through an online service whenever you want a change causes confusion as to which is the correct will and increase the chance that your Will will not be validated by the court.
The Bottom Line
Simply put, the risks of relying on an online will are substantial enough, such that you should give any prospective online will service a hard look before investing your time and money.
Even though these online options add some convenience, the best option for will creation and estate planning in general remains through a traditional legal team, such as the experts at SLN Law. These professionals can provide you with individualized legal assistance that won’t leave you exposed to expensive court and legal fees down the line.
Don't forget, blog readers enjoy 10% off our estate planning rates. Click here to learn more.