The True Cost of Cheap, Online Documents

There are dozens of cheap, online options for estate-planning documents. But you should beware of the risk that these documents won't work as intended. 

The following story illustrates how going for the cheapest alternative can end up costing you much, much more in the end. 


Mark’s favorite hobby is saving money. He’ll drive across town to save a nickel on a gallon of gas and will spend days negotiating with the car dealership.

And he’s a prolific saver. He’s put away ten percent of his paycheck ever since he took his first job out of college.

Between scrimping and saving, Mark has built up a pretty nice nest egg. His condo, now worth $775,000, is totally paid off and he’s got $500,000 in savings.

Mark doesn’t have much family. He never married and doesn’t have any kids. His parents died decades ago.

The only relatives left are his younger brother, Anthony, and his two nephews, Anthony’s children.

Mark tries to be a good uncle, but Anthony is difficult to get along with. He’s opinionated and argumentative, especially if he’s been drinking. Mark doesn’t enjoy Anthony’s company but wishes he could spend more time with his nephews.

After Mark retires, he starts to think about whom he would like to pass his property to after he dies. He decides to disinherit his brother Anthony and that his nephews should split his estate.

After some online research, he learns that using a will to pass your property is more expensive than using a revocable living trust to do so. So, naturally, Mark decides that he wants a living trust.

Being the penny-pincher he is, Mark then goes on a days-long quest to find the cheapest way to set up a living trust.

He finds one on a website for $250 and buys it. He signs his plan documents and thinks that he’s all set.

But he forgot to read the follow-up email that the website sent him about transferring his assets into the living trust. So, he doesn’t transfer the title to his condo or his savings account to the trust. Instead, they stay in his name.

Years later, Mark dies peacefully in his sleep.

Before he passed away, Mark mentioned to his nephews that he was leaving his property to them. So, after he died, one of the nephews took the lead and located the trust documents in Mark’s condo.

But the attorney the nephew met with told him that the trust was useless because Mark hadn’t transferred any assets into it. That meant that Mark’s property would have to go through through probate, the court process for transferring a deceased person's property to their heirs.

Because Mark didn’t have a will, the probate judge needed to name an administrator of Mark’s estate. Neither nephew was eligible to serve because neither could qualify for the required bond.

The judge ended up picking a local probate attorney off the panel.

And that attorney hired another attorney to represent him in his capacity as administrator of Mark’s estate.

This being totally normal, the judge approved of the arrangement.

Mark’s probate was very simple. There were only two assets: the condo and the savings account. Both could be dealt with easily. And they were.

Neither the administrator nor his attorney did much work. Yet both requested the full statutory fee. With a total estate value of $1.2 million, the administrator and his attorney were each entitled to a fee of $25,000.

Because fee amount was based on the probate statute, the judge approved the $50,000 fees.

There were also another $10,000 in expenses for other court costs, bond premiums, appraisal fees, and courier costs.

So, in total, $60,000—5% of his estate—was spent going through the probate process. But that’s not the worst part.

Mark’s living trust didn’t have any assets to pass to his nephews. And, because he died without a will, under California law, Anthony was his sole heir.

Anthony got everything that was left after the probate costs, $1.14 million.

His nephews were left with nothing. 

Take Away

Relying on cheap, online documents for your estate plan can be much more expense in the end. Mark saved on the cost of an estate-planning attorney, which is around a few thousand dollars.

But, because his living trust wasn't properly set up, the true cost of his failed plan was $60,000, plus the fact that his nephews didn't receive anything. 

Next Steps

Now that you've learned the true cost of cheap, online estate-planning documents, click the button to explore how you can ensure that the inheritance you leave for your loved ones are protected.  

Or, if you've already come from that page, click the button to see a summary of all the benefits of estate planning. You'll also be shown a special offer.