The concept of downloadable forms is not complicated. You get the basic gist of it. You buy a form online (we’ve got ‘em!), you download it, open it, and complete it. Sounds simple, right?

Absolutely, yes! You got it. (What? Were you expecting no? Come on, it’s not that complicated an idea and we don’t pretend to make it one.)

The functionality of a downloadable form is usually pretty simple and straightforward. How long you have access to a form you have purchased depends on the place you buy it from. Terms vary as well as whether or not you can share the forms or how many copies you can print.

Once you buy a form, the place you buy them from usually has several different formats. We provide Microsoft Word (.doc), Adobe PDF (.pdf), and Rich Text Format (RTF). Some forms and formats allow you to fill them in or make changes. Others require you to print the forms and then fill in the blanks.

To make the forms legal, there are generally some instructions included in the form packet you purchased. But regardless of the packet, you must follow your local rules. States may vary as well as the district or even the courthouse you are using the forms in, but the local rules generally do not vary much and the forms you buy should include instructions on your state’s rules.

The reality is that getting a downloadable form is usually pretty easy. At least as far as the mechanics of it all goes. And we at Peerless Legal have worked very hard to make that part of it easy for our customers.

So, what’s the catch with downloadable forms? There’s got to be one, right? There’s always a catch.

Actually, yes, there is a catch. (Given the title of this post, this answer should be no surprise.) The mechanics of forms are easy enough, but only, and a strong only, if the forms meet your needs. You need to know how the forms will meet your needs. And there’s the catch.

So, what about that catch, how can you tell if the forms are going to meet your needs? Don’t you need to see the forms before you buy them? Well, the short answer is no, not really. Seeing the forms themselves can do very little if you don’t know what to look for or why you would use the forms to solve your problem. That’s the purpose of downloadable forms: to help you with some problem. The forms are a solution to some problem.

For example, if you want to buy/sell a used car, you are going to need a written contract for that sale. That is the purpose, to have a contract to record the transaction, identify the parties and gather their contact information, the terms of the agreement, and to possibly get some protection in court (and/or maybe to meet your state requirements). That is why you would buy a bill of sale.

Before you buy a downloadable form, you should figure out what is the problem you want your forms to solve and match that against what the forms can do. Figuring out what is the use of the form is usually not hard. Lawyers tend not to get creative with titles for legal forms, which can make identifying the purpose of a form a lot easier. In addition to paying attention to the titles you should pay attention to what information you can gain from the descriptions, although sometimes product descriptions can be jargon filled blobs of confusion. Gather as much information as you need to feel confident that this form will help to solve your problem.

If you get a great form, but it doesn’t meet your needs, the forms are not very useful. Do a little research ahead and identify early on what problem you want the downloadable form to solve.

In almost anything you do, there will be a catch. Downloadable forms are no exception, but you can manage this catch with some research.



This blog entry was written by Sanket Mistry.

Sanket Mistry, J.D., M.I.A.      Sanket Mistry is the founder and CEO of Peerless Legal and blogs regularly. He has written numerous books including, "25 Estate Planning Forms," "8 Living Trust Forms," "Simple Will Creator," "Give Through a Will & Living Trust," and "Guidance On Creating Your Own Will & Power of Attorney," and the bestselling books in the Legal Self-Help Guide series, "Will, Trust, & Power of Attorney Creator and Estate Records Organizer" and "Estate Planning in Plain-English." He earned his JD from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University and is a member of the New York State Bar. He has worked, and volunteered, at a number of nonprofits, government agencies, and for-profit corporations. He also holds a BA in philosophy from Emory University and a MIA from Columbia University. He is an avid traveler and tennis player.