CAN I USE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO WRITE MY ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used in our daily lives more and more. Some families wonder if AI programs can create an estate plan for them.
While some AI programs can generate basic estate planning documents, such as wills, there's no guarantee they'll be accurate, valid, or enforceable. Providing detailed information and executing the documents in compliance with state law is critical. Otherwise, your documents won't work as intended. Estate planning documents need to be drafted in a specific format on a state-by-state basis. As of writing this article, publicly available AI systems cannot replicate this consistently.
Additionally, AI doesn't have the foresight that an experienced estate planning attorney does. For example, there may be unknown tax implications, long-term care planning issues, etc., that need to be addressed in your estate plan. AI programs do not fully understand you, your goals, or you're situation. Most people don't have the legal knowledge necessary to tell AI the specific clauses and language to include in their will or trust. Reviewing documents that AI creates is also critical. Most people don't have the legal education to know what to look for.
When using software to create your own estate plan, ask yourself the following questions:
How well do I understand my options for protecting my money, property, family, or business if I have a medical emergency and after death?
Do I have a complex financial situation with large amounts of property, income, or debt?
Is my family structure complicated (family dynamics leading to questions about disinheritance)?
Am I undecided about my wishes (how to divide my money and property or what to include in an advance directive)?
Weigh Your Options: Ease and Convenience vs. Expert Legal Expertise
Online DIY legal software is designed to automate the process and make it more accessible and cost-effective for those on a tight budget. While they may provide convenience and accessibility, they provide limited guidance. Programs such as LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and FreeWill don't offer the same level of customization, expertise, and personalization that an experienced estate planning attorney can provide.
These websites require you to answer a series of questions and then input those answers into templated documents, such as:
You may have trouble providing accurate and specific answers for several reasons:
Clear intentions. Vague answers can lead to inaccurate, incorrect, or inadequate documents for your situation.
Legal consequences. Certain instructions or clauses within a document require predicting and avoiding potential legal issues; being unaware of these can have negative consequences
Omission and oversight. You may overlook critical details necessary to achieve your estate planning goals, resulting in incomplete or ineffective documents.
When using artificial intelligence to create estate planning documents, it's important to have the legal education necessary to determine if the software is doing things right. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you.
When You Need More Than a Basic Will
While a basic online will may be a viable option for some, an experienced attorney is helpful in the following circumstances.
Ohio law can get complicated in these situations. If you have children from a previous marriage, it's important to create documents that clearly list your wishes. Otherwise, your property will be distributed according to state law. You may have to make some complex decisions, which may be difficult to evaluate without legal advice.
Special Needs Planning
If your child or grandchild has special needs, you may want to establish a special needs trust. This can provide for their ongoing care and financial support while ensuring they maintain eligibility for government assistance.
Estate Tax Planning
If you have a large sum of wealth, your estate may be subject to estate tax when you pass away. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you understand the latest tax-saving strategies. For example, many of our clients use gifting strategies and special trusts to bring down the value of their estate and preserve a greater legacy for their heirs.
If you are a business owner looking to pass your business on to the next generation or sell it upon retirement, you'll need a comprehensive plan. This plan should address the shift in ownership, management, and property for a smooth transition.
Multistate or International Property and Heirs
Many of our clients have vacation homes in other estates, and some even have property in other countries, like India. Your estate may be subject to several jurisdictions when you die, so special considerations will need to be made. This also applies if you have heirs living in foreign countries.
You may have concerns about potential creditors or ex-spouses coming after your hard-earned money. These could either be your creditors and exes, or ones of your beneficiaries. There are estate planning strategies that can protect your life savings from potential claims. These steps must be taken very carefully to follow the law.
To reap the tax benefits of charitable giving, specific steps must be taken. Each organization will have rules about gifts that you must follow to avoid negative consequences.
An estate planning attorney can address the unique needs and goals of you and your family. They will teach you about your situation and allow you to make informed decisions.
Errors That Make Online Documents Unenforceable
Estate planning attorneys can help you avoid the following common mistakes in online documents:
Ambiguity in wording. Ambiguity can lead to disputes and legal battles among potential heirs. Example: a will stating "I leave my property to my children" without specifying which children by name.
Improper use of legal terms. Misusing legal terms can lead to confusion or incorrect interpretation of your intent.
Incorrect names or identities. Misspelling the full name of a beneficiary or using their previous name makes it challenging to identify the intended recipient.
Inconsistent terminology. Using different terms to refer to the same asset (e.g., house, residence, property) may create confusion about what is being inherited.
Improper witnessing and notarization. Failing to properly witness or notarize a will and other legal documents can render them invalid.
Lack of clarity in distribution. Vague instructions about who will receive what and how they will receive it can cause disputes. For example, "divide my estate fairly among my children".
Failure to address contingencies. Not accounting for contingencies, such as what to do if a beneficiary predeceases you, can leave assets without designated recipients, subjecting it to state law.
Inadequate powers of attorney. Failing to grant adequate financial and medical POAs can create complications in managing affairs during incapacity. This could require your loved ones to get a court involved, which is what the powers of attorney were meant to avoid.
Conflicting instructions. Providing contradictory instructions within a single document or across several documents leads to uncertainty about your intentions. In some cases, you may want to redo documents entirely instead of updating them.
Our Estate Planning Attorneys in Dublin, Ohio Can Offer Legal Guidance
There are many considerations and potential scenarios that should be included in your estate plan. AI programs cannot adequately address unique situations, exposing you to unnecessary risks.
Experienced estate planning attorneys play a vital role in designing and reviewing state-specific forms that address your family's needs. Our attorneys in Dublin, Ohio can help ensure that your wishes are met while preventing disputes in the probate process.
If you wish to use AI estate planning programs, merely use them as an outline to begin the process. Take this information to our attorneys so we can review your situation and address your concerns.
If you are ready to create a legally enforceable, customized estate plan, give our office a call at 614-389-9711 to schedule an appointment.
Want to learn more about estate planning documents and how they work together? Download our Consumer's Guide to Estate Planning in Ohio here.
About the Author - Gregory S. DuPont, JD, CFP
Greg has been serving clients as an estate and tax planning attorney in Ohio since graduating from Capital University Law School in 1992. He obtained an accounting and finance degree from The Ohio State University. As a Certified Financial Planner, a designation that requires advanced coursework in a complete range of financial subjects, he is a rare financial professional who can provide cross-disciplinary solutions from the legal, tax and investment perspectives.
Greg is the co-author of the book: Protecting Your Future with Tax-Free Long-Term Care, and is a contributing author in Jack Canfield's best selling book The Recipe for Success.
He has been named one of Ohio's Top 100 lawyers, an invitation-only designation given by The National Advocates.