Like many areas of the law, estate planning was once a lawyer-only endeavor—folks were expected to pay lawyers to draw up their wills or trusts. These days, however, DIY estate planning is common and growing. And thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to access sound legal tools that you can use to plan your estate without a lawyer.
The Early Do-It-Yourselfers
Perhaps the first foray into do-it-yourself estate planning began in 1965 with Norman Dacey‘s How to Avoid Probate! Dacey was not a lawyer, but in his book he criticized the probate system and advised people to use trusts to avoid it. This did not sit well with the legal community, and he was found guilty of practicing law without a license. This ruling was later overturned on appeal, opening the door for others to create and distribute legal information for nonlawyers.
A few years later, Jake Warner and Ed Sherman started Nolo to do just that. (See more about the history of Nolo, here.) By the early 1980s Nolo had published several books that explained how to avoid probate and write a will or trust without a lawyer. These ground-breaking books included Wills, Probate, Trusts and Taxes and the Simple Will Book, both written by long-time Nolo author Denis Clifford.
Technology Feeds the Fire
In 1985, as personal computers became widespread, Nolo produced WillWriter, a book-and-software package that let people create wills on their Apple IIs. Nolo began including disks (and then CD-ROMs) with its will and trust writing books, allowing folks to write estate planning documents with ease and privacy on their own computers. Currently, Quicken WillMaker Plus, a direct descendent of WillWriter that provides a suite of estate planning tools, is the nation’s top-selling estate planning software.
The Internet fueled the real do-it-yourself boom in estate planning. Suddenly everyone had access to a breadth of information formerly only available to lawyers. Nolo was quick to make dependable information about taxes, probate, and will and trust writing available on the web. People can now also make their own estate planning documents online, and each year tens of thousands of people are now writing wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other documents online, without having to pay a lawyer.
Of course with the good comes the bad. Anyone who’s ever searched online knows that the web (like the rest of the world) is full of unreliable information. It’s up to the user to find trustworthy sources of legal tools and information. At Nolo, our team of attorneys are proud to bring you the most accurate and up-to-date legal information available. And when a complicated situation calls for a lawyer, our materials alert you.