The Risks of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning
If you’ve finally gotten around to the task of estate planning but reject the idea that you need a skilled estate planning attorney to carry out the necessary steps, you might want to take a few minutes to read this blog and reconsider.
Using estate planning forms from the internet may sound appealingly quick, cheap, and easy, but remind yourself of other processes touted with these adjectives. Take, for example, prefabricated homes and “easy-to-assemble” furniture, not to mention self-stick wallpaper. Remind yourself of the results of “quick and easy” do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, and how long they actually last. Still need convincing?
Working on an estate plan without using an estate planning attorney is likely to be similar to rewiring without an electrician, fixing a leak without a plumber, or stitching up a wound without a surgeon.
Why Do-It-Yourself Projects Often Fail
Problems are built right into DIY projects unless you intend to take the time to study the project’s subject in depth. Even then, unless you actually become a professional, there will be dangerous gaps in your knowledge. If you’ve ever had to call in an expert to repair your do-it-yourself mistakes, you know that doing so is not nearly as efficient or cost-effective as calling a professional in the first place.
Mistakes made in carrying out DIY projects are often discovered too late. It’s one thing to end up with a cabinet with drawers that don’t slide; it’s another to finish an estate plan that will complicate life for your loved ones after you die.
Reasons Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Is Risky
- Lack of knowledge about variations in state laws regarding inheritance, property ownership, and taxation can lead you astray, keep you from understanding nuances, interpreting legal wording accurately, and understanding all of your options.
- Lack of experience puts you at a disadvantage when unexpected challenges, such as family disputes, arise. Being close to such situations, it is difficult to be objective and even more difficult to be diplomatic. As with other legal areas, typical events are much more easily taken care of than unusual circumstances. The latter requires more extensive training and the ability to do legal research to find precedents.
- Not using the right tools to accomplish your goals can keep you from reaching them. A skilled estate planning attorney will know, for example, the intricacies of various types of trusts to best:
- Avoid probate
- Avoid unnecessary taxation
- Prepare for long-term care funded by Medicaid
- Protect the eligibility of your special needs child for government benefits
- Protect your assets from creditors, ex-spouses, and lawsuit settlements.
- Failing to follow the rules can make documents invalid. If you are unaware that a witness of your will cannot be an “interested party,” such as a beneficiary, or that the person you name as executor of your estate cannot have a felony in their background, either document can be deemed unacceptable by the court, resulting in all sorts of problems at the time of your death.
- Artificial intelligence often can’t solve human problems. Working with templates from the internet is very different from working with an estate planning attorney with a flexible mind and well-honed communication skills. The latter can deal with exceptions and seeming contradictions, can explain complex concepts, and answer uncommon questions in detail.
The Advantages of Having an Estate Planning Attorney
Theoretically, the average person can create a simple, straightforward estate plan without professional assistance. But are you “average”? In the vast majority of cases, something sets you and your family apart from the stereotypical American individual or family. If it doesn’t now, it may very well as the years pass. Situations like the following (and many more) require the skill set of an accomplished estate planning lawyer:
- Marriage involving a blended family
- High-net-worth estates
- Special needs family members
- Family members with addiction issues
- Alienated family members
- Family businesses
- Owning out-of-state properties
- Valuable collections (of autos, artwork, jewelry)
- Elderly relatives who may require prolonged nursing care
- Pre- or post-nuptial agreements
- Family members who are untrustworthy with money
Since the whole idea of estate planning is to protect your assets, prepare for retirement, and make your family as secure as possible, it doesn’t make sense to work without a net. Instead of doing it yourself, do the research to find a well-respected estate planning attorney before you begin.