You’ve probably, at some point or another, seen those ads that offer DIY-legal services. These ads claim that, by using their site, you’ll be able to create your own will in less time, with far less expense. Or perhaps you’ve decided to buy a book on estate planning and go for it yourself. While it’s true that you’ll create something, and you’ll probably do it cheaply, do-it-yourself estate planning is a move that will cost you more in the long run.
See, while self-produced legal services may seem tempting, they have a lot of negatives. You won’t get lucky and make the perfect estate plan—luck’s got nothing to do with it. You need a qualified estate planning attorney to get the job done right. In this article, we’ll talk about the dangers and downsides of DIY-estate planning.
Mistakes are Easy to Make and Hard to Fix
Lawyers go to law school for years. Estate planners train in the specific field of estate planning law, and even they check their documents over once, twice, three times or more before finalizing them. Typos, confusion with the legal terms, and problems with the signing are all major areas where DIY wills go wrong.
Requirements can seem nitpicky when it comes to estate planning, but these requirements serve an important state interest: preventing fraud. When it comes to witnesses, things get a little tricky. For example, some state laws dictate that a witness to the will cannot be a beneficiary of anything in it, while other laws require witnesses to all sign in one another’s presence. DIY will-making sites, which often service all 50 states with a boilerplate form, are unlikely to tell you that.
The problem isn’t the screw-up, it’s the fact that the error won’t be caught until after you’ve passed on. That’s when your document will have to go through court because it was handled improperly. The court process will be long and difficult, and it’s unlikely that your plan will be carried out the way you wanted it. And, again, this witnessing slipup is just one example of many pitfalls that accompany estate planning.
The “One-Size-Fits-All” Misconception
DIY services are often one-size-fits-all, meaning that they are not specific to your particular estate. Every estate is different, and attempting to standardize it all into a “one hour or less” planning session just isn’t realistic.
For example, you may want to pass on savings bonds to your beneficiaries, or some other similar asset. These assets, however, do not generally pass through a will or living trust. If you try to designate them through those documents, it will become very messy. Coordinating the different assets with the right documents is something an experienced lawyer will be able to do.
Also, DIY estate planners often leave too much up to their family, simply trusting that their family members will “do the right thing” and intuit what the writers mean in their self-made will. However, if family members always cooperated all the time, there would likely be no needed for estate planning altogether. You want to make sure you have, in clear, precise, correct terms what you want done after you die. That will shield against family fights or schisms that could lead to your will be interpreted in a way you did not intend.
Basically, while a DIY service might be cheaper, it actually costs you more in the long run, as slipups and errors, as well as problems coordinating the documents, can lead to major issues with executing your estate plan after you die. The best course of action is to schedule an estate planning consultation.