I’ve had several new clients come to my office with legal documents they downloaded off the Internet, or legal documents they paid some online service for (Legal Zoom, etc.) that created huge, expensive problems for them, or could have caused problems for them if they hadn’t taken these documents to an attorney for review before they passed away.
The problem with Internet legal advice is that sometimes things that look like perfectly good facts are actually just data picked up and presented either by some artificial intelligence bot or a person who is not licensed to practice law in that state. That information is often, at best, erroneous, and at worst, downright wrong.
I’ll give you a perfect example of what I’m talking about: Beneficiary Deeds or Transfer on Death Deeds in Tennessee.
If you Google: “beneficiary deed Tennessee”, your first search result will say the following:
“In Tennessee, real estate can be transferred via a TOD deed, also known as a beneficiary deed. This deed allows a property owner to designate a beneficiary who will automatically inherit the property upon the owner’s death, avoiding probate.”
The company presenting this information as fact is “GetSnug.com” which is a company that on its home page says:
“Leave a legacy, not a mess. . .Create and maintain Wills, Trusts, and essential documents. Organize life’s details now, minimize headaches later.”
Then there’s a button that says:
“Get started for free. . .”
So you can try this legal document service out (type in your personal information) and tell it (the program, not a person) to draft you some legal documents. But you actually have to pay $39 a month to actually get the documents to the printed stage. Hopefully you’ll remember to cancel the subscription after you’ve gotten what you want (and not end up paying $39 for life), but even so, what are you getting for $39?
First of all, you’re getting 100% false information from this company.
IN TENNESSEE, BENEFICIARY DEEDS DO NOT EXIST. THEY ARE NOT LAWFUL. THEY WON’T WORK.
That is to say, that even if you file one of these deeds with the Register of Deeds in the county where the property is located, it will not be recognized in a court of law in Tennessee, and the beneficiary on that deed will not be recognized as the rightful owner via that deed.
If you’re scratching your head and wondering how this can be possible, when this company is allegedly quoting a Tennessee statute, let me explain. . .
BEWARE OF BOTS
The document that this company’s artificial intelligence bot or non-attorney employee is using to make false statements about the law can be found here: “An Act to Amend Tennessee Code Annotated Tile 30” https://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/112/Bill/SB0660.pdf . By the way, this document is Google’s second search result on the search I mentioned above.
The problem lies in the fact that the bots or non-attorney employees at GetSung don’t understand the difference between a “Bill” and a “Law”.
Do you remember Schoolhouse Rock from back in the 70s? Where that “Lonely Old Bill” was sitting on Capitol Hill hoping to signed into law? Well, this Bill that GetSnug is using to support its false claims never made it into law.
How was this online DIY legal documents company so easily tricked into giving false legal advice?
When someone in the Tennessee legislature wants to change the statutes in Tennessee, they create what looks like an actual statute and even give it a statute number so that when it’s passed into law, it’s ready to be inserted into the new version of the statutes for that year. In this case it was: (31-8-101. [Meaning, Title 31, Chapter 8, Section 101] This chapter is known and may be cited as the “Tennessee Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act.”) In this case, you have this document linked above, with a (proposed) statute number on it, and if you never bother to actually go into the Tennessee Code Annotated itself, you will never know that that this statute number DOES NOT EXIST! Title 31 of the Tennessee Code Annotated stops at Chapter 7. There is no Chapter 8. This Bill died in the legislature and was never passed into law.
A person could use the deed form proposed in this Bill (yes, it includes a form you can use to register your deed this way!), essentially typing up their own “beneficiary deed”, and get it registered at the Register’s office in their county, and think they’ve avoided probate for their property and given it to the beneficiary of their choice. You might ask, “Wouldn’t the people working in the Register’s Office stop them from filing that deed?” Not necessarily. The Register is not permitted to give legal advice. Their job is to register documents as requested. It is very possible that a person could have this deed filed in Tennessee, even though it is completely unsupported by the law.
And what would happen next? Well, for one, the deed would be invalid, and therefore the language of passing that property to that beneficiary would not be followed by a court or any title company involved in a real estate transaction. That property would end up in probate court to determine ownership/inheritance. And secondly, there would be a cloud on the title, meaning a buyer of that property would likely have to hire a title attorney to clean up the mess to ensure that a title insurance company would insure the title. This makes that property very difficult to sell.
In the end, the costs of this DIY legal work are incalculable.
Anything can happen in probate that could cause delays and significant costs in the form of attorneys’ fees, lost value on real estate transactions, hardship on beneficiaries (monetary and otherwise), and significant stress and anxiety for the families of the deceased property owner. At Vermillion Law, we have free legal educational presentations every month of the year to help people understand the costs associated with probate. With the right planning in place, you can avoid probate and many of the taxes associated with dying. Take it from the voice of experience; DIY estate planning can be a disaster. Using online tools that purport to be “expert legal advice” can be a disaster. The fact is this: if you are not a licensed attorney whose job it is to know the law, you don’t know what you don’t know. And what you don’t know can really hurt you. Don’t give your money unnecessarily to a probate attorney or to the IRS. Come to one of our free legal seminars where we teach people in our community the ins and outs of Wills, Trusts, and Probate. Register here: Vermillion.Law/Events.