Are document preparer services all created equal? No, probably not, and why should they be? Different preparers serve different consumer needs and so business models vary widely. However, there are some basic questions to ask a document preparer, and some other things you need to ask yourself before deciding if a particular document service is right for your needs.
The Florida Association of Legal Document Preparers was founded in 2010 and is a voluntary trade association. Membership in FALDP shows consumers that the document preparer is serious about their business, and that he or she has been accepted for membership. Membership qualifications are listed on the Membership Page, and these are strictly adhered to. Members who go through the process to become FALDP Certified show consumers that they have gone the extra mile to provide service to consumers.
It is not absolutely necessary to be a member of our professional trade association to be allowed to prepare legal documents in Florida. However, we strongly urge consumers to think twice before doing business with a document preparer who is not a member of FALDP. Document preparers who are members of our association joined FALDP to show the world that they are serious about their business. Members are required to meet or exceed certain standards before they are allowed to join.
Does it matter? YES! In many types of document preparation knowing state and local forms and rules makes all the difference. Family law and real estate matters are two areas where the laws from state to state are completely different. Florida publishes forms for self-represented consumers that can be used statewide. In addition there are local forms that local or Florida based document preparers are much more likely to be aware of than a national provider. Even if a national provider is using the appropriate statewide forms, a national company is unlikely to have taken the time to research local forms and rules.
Also, although other document preparation types are federal, such as bankruptcy, there are state and local rules relative to types of exempt property and assistance with the means test, that a Florida document preparer may be more familiar with than would a document preparer from another sate. And although, a Florida document preparer may not offer legal advice, he may be able to readily point consumers to sources of local and Florida information.
FALDP members are required to physically operate their business in Florida, or have a Florida business presence.
Does the document preparer have a professional website? In this day and age, it is hard to imagine a serious businessperson not having an internet presence. For many document preparers a pleasing and informative website is a new customer's first impression. Their site should be pleasing to look at, easy to navigate, include contact information, and information about their prices, policies, and services. If their website is such that you only fill out questionnaires online or pay for services only online without the need to speak to a document preparer first, make sure there is a way to contact the document preparer if things go wrong.
As a prospective customer, it may also be a good idea to plug your document preparer's name into a search engine and see what you find. If first on the list is a consumer complaint, its a good idea to look for another document preparer. You may also check social media to find out even more about your document preparer and his business.
Decide for yourself which will work better for you. Some consumers are not completely comfortable with completely online services, others are. Each has pros and cons. Face to face services may be better if you want your document preparer to notarize your paperwork for you, or you just feel better dealing with someone in person. Most of our members are accustomed to serving their customers remotely due to pandemic. We may only have a few members in some rural parts of Florida, so consumers should be open to working with their document preparer through email and on the phone.
FALDP members are well aware of the following rules. If you see document preparers breaking basic rules, that should give you a reason to stop and carefully consider your choice. Be aware of certain phrases that should not appear on a document preparer's website or advertising. These are basic rules associated with operating a successful document preparation company and avoiding the appearance of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. If a document preparer ignores or is not aware of some of these basic rules, you have to wonder what other corners he or she may cut.