Do-it-yourself (“DIY”) should be left to remodeling your home and trying out new crafting ideas – not estate planning. Unfortunately, do-it-yourself estate plan products have become the latest fad. While the services and products you see offered on the internet or in bookstores may advertise a lower price, the reality is these computer generated forms are not comparable to the professional legal work you would receive from an estate planning attorney. Although the document you purchase online may appear to be professional and valid, containing some of the hallmarks of a legal document, it may not ultimately operate the way you intended.
Understand the risks of a DIY estate plan
Before you undertake to create your estate plan yourself using a do-it-yourself online product, you need to understand the risks. This is especially true in the complicated legal are of estate planning. In fact, the American Bar Association established a Task Force for the very purpose of assessing these do-it-yourself in estate planning products. Possibly the greatest risk you will face in preparing their own estate plan is the false sense of security those products provide.
Should you use a do-it-yourself will?
In some very limited cases, a do-it-yourself will may be sufficient to accomplish what you want your will to accomplish. For example, if you have very few assets, you are the sole owner of those assets, and you intend to leave them to your closest living relative, then a do-it-yourself will may work. On the other hand, if you have complicated assets such as businesses or out-of-state property, and different beneficiaries who may need protection for their inheritance, you would be better off consulting with an estate planning attorney. Otherwise, there could be serious consequences for your family to deal with.
Potential problems with a do-it-yourself will
There have been many cases where an individual has purchased a DIY will kit, filled in all the blanks and thought everything was fine. However, in many cases, individuals do not have the required witness signatures for their state. In other cases, when someone completes the do-it-yourself form by hand, the court is left to try to interpret the handwritten notations on the form, after their death. At that point, it is too late to ask you what your real intentions were. The court will have to make that determination for you. Not only do you run the risk that the court won’t get it right, but going through these procedures will cost your family time and money.
Do-it-Yourself Durable Power of Attorney
Another important estate planning document is the power of attorney which conveys to your chosen agent, power over your personal affairs. In order for a durable power of attorney to be effective, it must be drafted correctly. If mistakes are made the document will likely not work the way you intended or it may be considered completely invalid. The misconception with do-it-yourself products is that one size fits all. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The most important example of this is the fact that, in order to be valid the power of attorney must be executed in compliance with the laws of your state. Those laws differ from one state to the next. Some states require a signature with witnesses while others require the power of attorney to be notarized. If your DIY form does not comply with the laws in your state, you run the risk of it being invalid.
Institutions may not accept your DIY power of attorney
Even if you are successful in drafting your power of attorney form and it is considered legally valid in your state, there will likely be some banks and other financial institutions unwilling to honor your power of attorney. If there is even one provision that looks questionable or confusing to a bank, they may reject your power of attorney. This will leave your family with no other recourse than to go to court.
Why you should consult an estate planning attorney
The benefit of an estate planning attorney is that he or she can provide legal expertise in drafting complex legal documents that carry serious consequences if not drafted properly. Indeed, the American Bar Association’s Task Force encourages people to think twice before attempting to draft their own estate planning documents.
Join us for a free seminar! If you have questions regarding trust litigation, or any other estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.