By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
April 11, 2019
The Dangers of DIY Estate Planning
DIY (Do-It-Yourself) is one of the most popular phenomena today. More and more people are finding it worthwhile to roll up their sleeves and accomplish diverse home repairs and other improvement projects without having to bring in a supposedly expensive professional.
That being said, there are just some things that you shouldn’t be attempting by yourself. For instance, you’re never going to find “A Simple Guide on How To perform DIY Surgeries at Home.” (If you do, click away fast.) Quite simply, certain tasks are best handled by the professionals because an error could be devastating.
While not quite on the level of performing a surgery on yourself, estate planning falls into this category.
DIY Estate Plans: Attempt at Your Own Risk
It’s an undeniable reality that DIY wills and trusts are now a thing. Companies like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, Avvo.com, LegalShield and Nolo Press have forms that you can download, print out, and after filling in the blanks, you’ll have a will – just like that!
Unfortunately, the American Bar Association has in the past put the providers of DIY wills under scrutiny and found a number of problems, some of which have the potential for devastating outcomes.
Before you embark on this path of DIY estate planning, consider the following risks.
The Law Is Complicated
Let’s face it, unless you have some experience in legal estate planning, you probably have no idea what documents you need – or even how to draft them.
A parent with minor children may, for instance, assume he or she needs just a simple will to leave his or her estate to the surviving spouse and later his or her children. However, the truth is that things aren’t quite so simple.
When a minor, for instance, inherits an estate, the court may appoint a custodian to manage the inheritance until the minor comes of age. This custodian, however, might not be under any obligation or have any direction to spend the inherited assets in the way that the deceased parents would have wanted.
You Family Doesn’t Fit into a Generic Template
Then there are families with complicated dynamics. Do you have a blended family? Has there been a remarriage? What if your legal beneficiary has some kind of mental disability?
Additionally, it’s not unusual for young beneficiaries who receive their inheritance in one lump sum to blow it all in a few months or weeks on meaningless things. And we haven’t even gotten to the in-fighting that might break out amongst siblings over their inheritance.
You May Force Your Family into Probate
After you die, your assets go through a legal procedure known as probate, where value is tallied, debts are paid, and — eventually — beneficiaries receive what you left them. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
But it can take months — or longer — and the entire time your loved ones will be reminded of their loss and waiting for an inheritance that they might have been counting on.
This is what will happen if you simply toss off a DIY will, but a knowledgeable estate planning attorney can help you keep your loved ones from going through this.
Your Business Might Not Fit into What a DIY Will Can Cover
These days, more and more people are becoming entrepreneurs and starting their own businesses. This can be a fantastic way to make money while doing something you like, and if the business takes off you can pass it on to your family.
But if you co-own your business with someone else, things get a lot more complicated. Depending on how you set up your business and what laws and contracts govern its operation, it may not be as easy as writing in your will that you want your kids to take over.
Quite simply, DIY wills just aren’t built to handle situations like this. To avoid causing problems for your loved ones after you’re gone, your best bet is to work with a professional.
A Simple Mistake Can Invalidate Your Will
Like most other DIY projects, DIY wills have a greater risk for error. Some states, for example, do not recognize wills that have been handwritten. The number of witnesses required by law also varies from one state to the next. These are just some of the crucial intricacies of will drafting which, if done wrong, can wholly invalidate your estate plan.
A simple, easy-to-make mistake with DIY estate planning can be the reason why your entire estate plan is thrown out. Because of this, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced attorney to ensure you have a clear and valid will that will stand up to legal scrutiny.
Estate planning attorneys help you find the best solutions for every estate planning scenario. They will, for instance, help you decide if it’s best to create a testamentary trust or a revocable living trust. They’ll help you structure how you want the assets to be spent (for instance, by dispersing the inheritance to your children in stages).
In short, the concept of will writing is complex and requires unique resources and knowledge that only an experienced estate planning attorney can provide. Your life isn’t one-size-fits-all – your will shouldn’t be either.
Here’s a few helpful posts that may reveal some complexities and reinforce the importance of planning ahead.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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