I enjoy and appreciate the internet. There is so much valuable information at the click of a mouse. It is a dream-come-true for the do-it-yourselfer in all of us. Some projects, however, are very risky DIY projects.
I know this from experience, too. I prepared my first client estate plan in January of 1985, and have cleaned up my share of DIY estate plans gone bad over the years.
You do not have to take it from me, either.
Obviously, as an estate planning attorney you would expect me to be biased, right? No, my experiences are backed up by a recent article in ABA Law Technology Today, titled "3 Reasons to Avoid Online Forms for Wills and Estate Planning."
This article notes that, just like fixing up your house, there are jobs you can handle yourself and those that require the assistance of an expert.
So, here are some common dangers associated with DIY estate planning via the internet:
Are they state specific? Online forms may or may not work. These forms typically are not state-specific, which means your will may or may not be valid. Just like your house being "up to code," the code may differ from one location to the next. And just like doing the job right with a home improvement project, if you are investing the time to draft a will or any other estate planning document (which you should!), you want to make sure it is valid.
An experienced estate planning attorney in your own state can help make certain your will is valid and properly executed and your interests are protected.
You are missing out on valuable legal advice. Do you ever start an unfamiliar project on your home without doing any homework? Just run to the hardware store, grab some supplies and get going? That probably has a low likelihood of success. Websites may say that wills and other estate planning documents are quick and easy to create. However, you are missing out on valuable legal advice and experience.
When you talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, you will become informed and educated on the details of your plan. You and your attorney will discuss whether a will or a trust would be better for you (or perhaps both), and how to apply them to your specific circumstances (e.g., step-children, special needs, college savings, or aging parents). The original article reminds us that an attorney does much more than draft the documents—he or she gives you legal advice on why you should have your document drafted in a certain way.
Websites don’t inform you of changes in the law in the future. What? There's a new tool that saves me time or a product that makes my house safer? A website will not notifiy you when an important law changes that may impact the provisions of your will, but an experienced relationship-oriented attorney will. You can be sure that the laws are always being amended, updated, and repealed. A competent estate planning attorney keeps up-to-date on those changes and communicates them to his or her clients. Many individuals ask their attorneys to contact them annually to see if there are changes to the laws and to be certain their wills are valid and still reflect their wishes and their circumstances.
In our practice, we have been sending a monthly estate planning newsletter to our clients each month since 1995. In addition, we send an "estate review" reminder letter via USPS in early October of every odd-numbered year.
The original closes with the reminder that you "get what you pay for" in life. This is an fact of life.
Using a form you discover on the Internet will most undoubtedly be less expensive and perhaps less time consuming than partnering with an attorney to draft your will or other estate planning documents—but is it worth it? Remember, these are important issues concerning you and your loved ones. You want to make sure that everything is legal and you have the best strategies in place.
Think about it? Do you really want to take on this important project alone?
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri) and to download free tools to help you organize your estate, visit my estate planning website.
Reference: ABA Law Technology Today (October 7, 2014) "3 Reasons to Avoid Online Forms for Wills and Estate Planning"