Senior Life: Five Dangers of DIY Estate Planning
In a society empowered to do-it-yourself (“DIY”), we turn to social media and an overwhelming number of websites and blogs to get step-by-step instructions on how to save money by doing it ourselves. In this environment of DIY sometimes it can become unclear as to when a professional is required, and when we can save money by figuring it out ourselves.
I will admit that a good DIY project excites me; however, there are certain undertakings that even the bravest of do-it-yourself-ers will admit are off limits. What surprises me is how blurry the line has become between saving money and taking risks that can backfire and become very costly.
As a professional that has seen many DIY estate plans go wrong, I consider DIY estate plans one such risk that can backfire and end up causing costly mishaps. I am a proponent of self-education, but it is important to understand that researching estate planning online may give you some good general information; however, filing out a fill-in-the-blank Will or Power of Attorney form without consulting an attorney licensed in your home state is hazardous.
Based on my experience of seeing these various DIY estate plans I have compiled a list of the Five Dangers of DIY Estate Plans:
1. One-Size Does Not Fit All. The DIY estate planning services and documents do not take into account each individual’s personal circumstances. Your estate plan should be customized to you. You might not realize all the options available. An educated advisor and attorney working as a team can help guide you on the best way to accomplish your goals in your plan.
2. Cost. While you may feel like you are saving money by using an online service to create your own estate planning documents, you may actually end of spending more. A primary issue with many of these fill-in-the blank forms, and DIY estate plan services is the plan is not implemented properly. It can actually cost much more to correct the estate plan than it would have been to retain the services of an attorney to prepare the plan the right way from the beginning.
3. Expertise of an Attorney. Each state has very specific rules on what needs to be in estate planning documents and how the documents need to be executed, failure to abide by the signature and notary requirements could invalidate the document. You may not understand the terms and legal language used in the document. One small mistake, omission, or misuse of a legal term and you could disinherit a grandchild, child, or even your spouse.
4. Counseling. An attorney provides more than just the expertise of drafting a properly executed estate plan. Often the estate planning attorney will provide guidance and counsel when making personal decisions such as who to name as the guardian for your minor children, or who to select as your agent under your power of attorney. A fill-in-the blank form is not going to be able to determine the best way to implement your intentions or provide guidance on these intimate decisions.
5. Estate Planning Is More Than Documents. Estate planning involves not only the drafting and execution of documents, but involves the coordination of assets and beneficiary designations. You may think that you have a “simple” estate; however, an attorney can sort out the various factors that may require a more complex estate plan such as a child that has a disability, a second marriage, real estate owned outside of Pennsylvania, or business ownership. Further, an attorney will have the expertise to provide tax planning and explain the tax implications of your estate plan.
Initially hiring an attorney may cost more than preparing your own estate plan. But the consequences of an improperly drafted plan can cost significantly more in the long run.
DIY estate planning documents are likely to be filled with errors, which can cause an estate plan to ultimately be litigated in court. If you have created your own estate plan without the advice of an attorney, please contact our office to schedule a time to review the documents.
If you are debating creating your own estate plan, please make sure to read the fine print and realize that DIY estate planning is one risk you should not take.
–Thanks to Rebecca A. Hobbs, Esquire, CELA