Who doesn’t like to save a few bucks with a “do it yourself” or DIY project? However, some things are best left to the professionals.
There’s no shortage of DIY legal services on the Internet. You can even buy a basic fill in the blank legal form at your local office supply store. People ask me all the time if these documents work. For some people - maybe they do. But does that mean the DIY will is a good idea? I don’t think so. After all, most of us wouldn’t endorse the idea of DIY dentistry.
Here are just a few of the common problems I see with DIY Estate Planning:
1. It’s not custom to your needs.
DIY estate planning is based on filling in simple forms or answering a slate of generic questions. By their very nature they can’t take into account your specific situation, family structure, complexities or concerns. One of the most important pieces of my job is the client interview where I learn about my clients, can ask follow-up questions and dig deeper about their needs and concerns.
2. They don’t always ask the right questions.
How many times is the answer to a question “it depends” or “that’s complicated.” DIY estate planning solutions don’t allow for further explanation. Many of these forms don’t take in to consideration joint ownership of assets, beneficiary designations, or distinguish between probate vs. non-probate assets. A trained professional can.
3. Unintended consequences.
Many of the DIY estate plans that are created by these form sites and programs create plans that are not what the creator intended. Unfortunately, this isn’t learned until years (hopefully decades) later when the estate is probated. Probate attorneys spend a lot of time, and a lot of their client’s money, trying to fix the unintended consequences created by the DIY estate planner.
4. Some aren’t effective at all.
When a person creates their own estate plan using a form or an online tool they aren’t aware of their specific state’s laws or requirements. Florida has rules regarding elective share, support for minor children and requirements of a valid will. Many times we find a DIY estate plan that is invalid in whole or part for failure to follow state law or formalities.
5. Provides a false sense of security.
People create an estate plan because they want to protect their family and plan for the future. That’s an admirable goal. Unfortunately, using an online service or form only creates a false sense of security and may actually do more harm than good.
6. It just doesn’t compare.
Online services try to entice users by saying they can save significant money compared to the cost of hiring an attorney. But it’s really not an apples-to-apples comparison. Online services and forms can’t give legal advice, can’t customize a document to your specific needs, and can’t tell you when you’re making a mistake.
No one likes talking to an attorney and thinking about their own mortality. Creating a comprehensive estate plan is one of the best gifts you can give your family. If you’re going to go to the time and effort to prepare an estate plan, it pays to get it done right. When you’re ready to get started, or if you want to fix that DIY project you did a while ago, we can help.