Americans, by and large, are do-it-yourselfers. Information abounds to help us tackle all kinds of situations — including estate planning. However, it might be best to use caution when considering preparing your own will and other estate planning documents.
A recent article on WMUR.com Money Matters, titled "The potential pitfalls of DIY estate planning," gives us some pros and cons to consider before trying your hand at creating your own estate plan.
Some of the pluses are:
- The expense. It is less expensive, as there are no attorney fees.
- A simple task. Plenty of online resources and books can help you through the process.
- 'Better than nothin'. You know what happens if you die without a will: the state will decide who gets your assets, as well as name a guardian to care for your minor child.
These are all sound arguments. However, if you look at the minuses carefully, you will find that do-it-yourself can be risky, time-consuming, and expensive. The original article notes that an "over the counter" estate plan might:
- Fail to include the appropriate language and to handle complex situations, such as children from a prior marriage, children with special needs, and appreciated property.
- Fail to take implement more sophisticated estate planning strategies.
- Include drafting errors because of a failure to understand the instructions or not inputting data correctly.
- Fail to update documents with new legislation and case law which may impact your estate.
The document you construct may not be valid or effective, which may result in unintended consequences. A big "con" in this equation is that your home-made estate plan may give you a handy-dandy set of forms—but no legal advice. An experienced estate planning attorney can provide you with so much more than the forms: years of practice, training, and education to apply to your specific set of circumstances.
Remember the saying, "You get what you pay for." A cut-rate will or trust from the internet is the same for you as the next guy or gal. There is little or no thought regarding what you want to accomplish and how you want to do it. Make a point of speaking to an estate planning attorney right away, and save the do-it-yourself for some Saturday morning chores around the house.
Reference: WMUR.com Money Matters: (September 11, 2014) "The potential pitfalls of DIY estate planning"