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Publications | November 5, 2015
4 minute read

Avoiding Common Estate Planning Mistakes

In today’s internet age, it’s easier than ever to create your own estate plan. All it takes is a quick Google search to find the online forms and you’re halfway there, right? Wrong.

With the rising number of products available to create low-priced, do-it-yourself estate planning documents, cost-conscious consumers may be tempted to use these forms as an acceptable alternative to more expensive estate plans developed by experienced attorneys. However, while the potential to save money upfront is an attractive proposition, estate planning is fraught with potential problems and pitfalls, any of which could ultimately lead to your final wishes not being implemented as intended.
When considering the estate planning process as a whole, from drafting to administration, it becomes evident that the do-it-yourself estate planning should be avoided. Here are some reasons why:

One Size Does Not Fit All

In order to make do-it-yourself forms useful for the masses, the forms are designed to be as general as possible. This poses problems as these forms must operate in an area of law that is both state-specific and fact-sensitive. Documents claiming to be valid in each of the 50 states must be broad in a way that will undoubtedly fail to address the intricacies of your own state’s laws. Additionally, in order to avoid overwhelming consumers, do-it-yourself forms provide a limited range of options and planning techniques. Such simplicity leads to documents that are unable to consider specific financial and personal circumstances, leaving you with a form document that is poorly suited to meet your individual estate planning goals.

Estate Planning Law is Complex

While do-it-yourself forms attempt to portray estate planning law as simple and straightforward, the laws surrounding estate planning are both intricate and constantly evolving. Even in dealing with “simple wills,” a barrage of formalities must be addressed in order for the document to be enforceable, let alone effective. Beyond that, more sophisticated planning strategies need to be utilized when dealing with relatively common complexities, such as children with special needs, assets requiring additional protections or children from a prior marriage. None of these circumstances can be properly addressed with the simplicity of do-it-yourself forms.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

A key component of preparing a quality estate plan is knowing the particular circumstances, both personal and financial, that require special planning techniques. While do-it-yourself forms can create a basic framework for documents, they cannot and do not provide valuable legal advice. In fact, sources providing such forms clearly state that they are not substitutes for attorneys and that they are prohibited from providing any kind of legal advice. Without the help of an estate planning attorney who is experienced at issue spotting, it is impossible to know the right legal solution to a particular situation or what planning opportunities are available.

There Are No Do-Overs

While many people using do-it-yourself forms believe “at least they’re better than nothing,” this is not always the case. As an example, I recently reviewed estate plan documents prepared by a client using a popular online program. This program had defaulted to disinherit any children born to the client after execution of the will, which was not the intent of the client. Had the do-it-yourself form been administered, it would have resulted in one of his children being left with nothing. This highlights the principal risk in using do-it-yourself forms: if a mistake is made, it likely won’t be revealed until it is too late.

You Get What You Pay For

Everyone likes to save money. And when it comes to fixing your own sink or staining your own deck, the do-it-yourself route may be the best way to go. But when it comes to planning your own estate, the risk of unintended results is simply too great, particularly when the expense of correcting poorly drafted forms will likely far outweigh the cost of preparing a proper estate plan in the first place. Spending the money now to ensure your loved ones are properly cared for at your passing will avoid uncertainty during life and potential disaster after death.

Ultimately, you have one opportunity to leave an estate plan that correctly carries out your last wishes. Trusting this job to do-it-yourself forms could prove extraordinarily costly in the end.