DIY Projects: you either love them, or you hate them. And it depends on what we are DIY-ing. Sometimes I am all over a good “DIY” project. I have spent many a weekend making things, painting rooms, refinishing tables, etc., whether to enjoy the process or save a buck. However, that being said, I draw the line at anything complex that needs to be done by an expert.
I don’t use online resources when I need a doctor, a dentist, an electrician, or a contractor. Where do you draw the line? Draw that line with anything that could affect your family’s well-being, or that would be expensive to correct if not done right. Estate planning is not a DIY project.
Just this week, two of the inquiries to my office were DIY estate plans. Sad but true. I hate when parties who have just lost a loved one sit down with me, and I have to deliver more bad news on top of their recent loss and trauma. Unfortunately, it happens way too often. You see, when you do a DIY estate plan and cross that off your to-do list, usually, the error is not discovered until there is a death– and then it’s too late. The damage is done, and your loved ones are left to pay the price.
Do a Google search for “online estate planning documents,” and you’ll find dozens of different websites that let you complete and print out just about any planning document you can think of—wills, trusts, healthcare directives, or power of attorney. These do-it-yourself (DIY) planning services seem like an enticing bargain, with many sites offering simple wills for $50 or less.
At first glance, such DIY planning documents appear to be a quick and inexpensive way to finally cross estate planning off your life’s lengthy to-do list. Even if you realize your DIY plan won’t be as good as those prepared by a lawyer, you think at least it can serve as a temporary solution until you find time to meet with an attorney to upgrade. These forms may not be perfect, but they’re better than having no plan at all.
People often believe their situation and financial picture are simple enough for them to do their own estate planning. Have you ever heard the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know?” We all have things we don’t know, and we don’t even know that we don’t know we don’t know them! As Confucius says, “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.”
Relying on DIY planning documents can be worse than having no plan at all—and here’s why:
An inconvenient truth
Creating a plan using online documents, can give you a false sense of security—you think you’ve got planning covered, when you most certainly do not. DIY plans may even lead you to believe that you no longer need to worry about estate planning, causing you to put it off until it’s too late.
In this way, relying on DIY planning documents is one of the most dangerous choices you can make. In the end, such generic forms could end up costing your family even more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing any planning at all.
At least with no plan at all, planning would likely remain at the front of your mind, where it rightfully belongs until it’s handled properly.
One size does not fit all
Online planning documents may appear to save you time and money, but keep in mind, just because you created “legal” documents doesn’t mean they will work when you need them. If you read the fine print of most DIY planning websites, you’ll find numerous disclaimers pointing out that their documents are “no substitute” for the advice of a lawyer or don’t guarantee to be “correct, complete, or up to date.” That is a HUGE red flag!
Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Even if you think your particular planning situation is simple, that seldom is the case. Without an attorney to advise you, you won’t have any idea of what you should watch out for.
To demonstrate just how complicated the planning process can be, here are four common complications you’re likely to encounter with DIY plans.
1. Improper execution
To be considered legally valid, some planning documents must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. The document can be worthless if your DIY will doesn’t mention that (or you don’t read the fine print) and you fail to follow this procedure.
2. Not adhering to state law
State laws are also specific about who can serve in certain roles like a trustee, executor, or financial power of attorney. For instance, in some states, the executor of your will must be a family member or an in-law, and if not, the person must live in your state. If your chosen executor doesn’t meet those requirements, he or she cannot serve.
3. Unforeseen conflict
Family dynamics are—to put it lightly—complex. This is particularly true for blended families, where spouses have children from previous relationships. A DIY service cannot help you consider all the potential areas where conflict might arise among your family members and help you plan ahead of time to avoid it. When done right, the estate planning process is a huge opportunity to build new connections within your family. We’re specifically trained to help you with that.
We’ve all seen the impact of families ripped apart due to poor planning. Yet, every day we see families brought closer together as a result of handling these matters the right way. We want that for your family.
4. Thinking a will is enough
Lots of people believe that creating a will is sufficient to handle all of their planning needs. But this is rarely the case. A will, for example, does nothing in the event of your incapacity, for which you would also need a healthcare directive and/or a living will, plus a durable financial power of attorney.
Furthermore, because a will requires probate, it does nothing to keep your loved ones out of court upon your death. And if you have minor children, relying on a will alone could leave your kids vulnerable to being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers.
Don’t do it yourself!
Given all of these potential dangers, DIY estate plans are a disaster waiting to happen. The purpose of estate planning is to keep your family out of court and conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. As cheap online estate planning services become more and more popular, millions of people are learning—or their loved ones will soon learn—that taking the DIY route often makes court cases and family conflicts more costly.
If you have yet to create a plan, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been reviewed in more than a year or two, meet with us. We can ensure that you have a plan that will work for you as you intend if something should happen to you. Contact us today to learn more.