The Pitfalls of “DIY” Estate Planning
The independence of do it yourself, or “DIY,” is a point of pride for some people and keeps businesses like Home Depot and Lowes profitable. While some home improvement activities can safely be done by the average person, others, such as plumbing and electrical work, really need professional expertise. Without that expertise, you may spend more fixing the problems caused by DIY efforts than you would have spent if you had hired a professional from the beginning.
The same is true for estate planning.
While there are hundreds of online sites that offer basic legal estate planning documents, there is no one to help you craft the exact right plan for your needs. In fact, when taking the DIY route you could create a plan that results in expensive probate costs, unintended beneficiaries and undistributed assets. This type of mess could cause your entire estate plan to be rejected by the probate court or create significant discord among your family and friends.
With DIY Estate Planning it’s All Up to You
When you choose the DIY estate planning route you often:
- Pay money to an unknown entity. The process begins when you pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to an online website. Even if you have read their reviews, you have no real knowledge of the expertise behind the site or if the reviews are valid.
- Receive access to blank generic forms. The problem with generic forms is that few estates have generic needs. Even when the forms are state-specific, you don’t know if they’ve been updated to meet the current laws or if they can address your specific goals.
- Do your own research and hope for the best. First you have to determine which of the forms will best serve your needs and then complete them as accurately as possible, and have it witnessed and notarized. At that point you still need to determine if there are additional state requirements that you also have to meet.
This process can go wrong in so many ways that even more attorneys who don’t specialize in estate planning will hire someone who does.
Three Reasons to Hire an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
While the DIY route might appear to save you money, in the long run it can cost you and your family an incredible amount in probate and legal fees. Here are the three primary reasons to hire an expert.
- There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to estate planning.No matter how basic it seems, everyone’s estate is different. The process is about more than simply distributing assets after your death, it is also about financing your retirement, meeting long-term goals, planning for the care of minor children and addressing tax consequences. In this modern age of divorce and remarriage, an estate plan must also take this into account to assure that former spouses are no longer listed as beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, as well as avoid unintended inheritances. Also, trusts can be a great element of a strong estate plan, but there are many to choose from. An expert can help you craft an estate plan that takes advantage of all available resources and truly meets your needs.
- Estate planning involves a complex set of laws that can change over time.There is a reason why DIY companies have a caveat stating that they provide only the forms and are not offering legal advice. These companies can never guarantee that each user of their forms will complete them in a way that complies with federal and state laws and regulations, or that they will be honored in a court of law. Even living wills can be rejected by a hospital or court because they are not completed appropriately. Blogs may offer general information but no one but a trained estate planning professional can provide the nuanced and accurate legal advice needed to draft a legally-compliant plan.
- Non-Compliance with formalities can make your will and other estate plan documents irrelevant. Every form has different requirements regarding the number of witnesses needed, where you signature belongs and how it must be dated. You can’t rely on the number of witness signing spaces on the DIY forms to accurately inform you on exactly what you need. And remember, for documents that must be notarized, the notary is only validating that the people signing the document are who they claim to be, not that the form is completed accurately. A DIY situation doesn’t begin to address all of the formality requirements that can be missed, making the entire plan invalid. Without professional guidance, your family will only learn of these issues when your estate is in probate and by then it is too late to make any corrections.
While a DIY estate plan might appear to be a good idea on the surface, the truth is that nothing can replace the skills, experience, and knowledge of a professional estate planner. At Life Counsel & Planning, we create the unique estate plans crafted to meet our clients’ specific needs. We know the law and estate planning options that you might not have considered, which can help you truly meet your goals and save your family money.
While the rest of the world seems to be closed at the moment, we are open and ready to serve you. With teleconferencing and online video conferencing options, we can help you structure your estate plan starting today. Please call us at (904) 638-2345 to schedule your free initial consultation.