New Web site does estate planning

Purchasing airline tickets, ordering Christmas gifts, studying for graduate-school entrance exams — many of life's most tedious tasks can be expedited on the Internet. And now, a new website,, launched by La Cañada attorney Robert Smith, coaches users through the estate-planning process, allowing them to bypass their lawyer's office completely.

"The big advantage to the people in the public is the difference in price," Smith said. "If you go to a lawyer, he can charge up to $2,500. My plan for a family is about $1,000. A husband and wife can get a complete plan [on the website] for less than $250."

WillstoTrust starts by walking the user through a brief survey to assess things such as assets and beneficiaries, and to verify that they are a candidate for online estate planning. The survey also helps determine what type of trust would be most suitable.

The site then provides a list of estate planning documents that are typically discussed in conference with an estate-planning lawyer, Smith said. The documents are automatically filled out with the user's information, and are available for purchase at the end of the session. They come complete with information on how to get the documents notarized.

Complicated circumstances that require the expertise of a lawyer, such as blended families, will trigger a warning, Smith said. Further, users who do complete the process online can have the documents reviewed by a lawyer if they want, he added.

The concept first came to Smith in the late 1990s but he had to wait several years in order for the technology to catch up before starting to design the software and the website. The finished product was launched earlier this year.

There are other sites, including, that provide some legal services online, Smith said. But WillstoTrust is the only estate-planning site that is designed by estate-planning lawyers, and the only one that makes lawyers available to users if they should need one, he said.

"They are taking a risk," Smith said of people who do estate planning online. "What we thought is we would be able to reduce the risk by putting our expertise into this program."

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