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Common Mistakes with Do-It-Yourself Estate Plans


The internet seemingly offers all the information and tools we need to create our own estate plan. For many people, this is simply not true. Although Wills drafted using popular do-it-yourself services are generally better than Wills drafted by non-lawyers on their own, they are often inadequate to fully meet the needs of consumers. Although your do-it-yourself estate plan may initially cost very little, it may end up being much, much more expensive in the end than an estate plan designed by an experienced estate planning attorney.

Wills are only one part of a comprehensive estate plan

Even if your do-it-yourself Will meets all your state’s requirements and is legally valid, the will alone is unlikely to be sufficient to address all of your estate planning needs. Furthermore, do-it-yourself packages you can buy online that purport to be comprehensive may not include important documents you may be unaware that you need. As a non-lawyer, you have not received legal training and are unlikely to know which documents you need to fully plan for the future. Without expertise in a particular area, we simply don’t know what we don’t know—and this could lead to unnecessary heartache for you or the family and loved ones you will one day leave behind.

Do-it-yourself estate plans may not conform to the applicable law

The law that applies to estate planning is determined by each state—and there can be wide variations in the law from state to state. Although the forms you can find on the internet may claim to conform to your state’s law, this may not always be the case. In addition, if you own property in another state or country, the laws in those jurisdictions may differ significantly, and your do-it-yourself estate plan may not adequately account for them.

A do-it-yourself estate plan could contain inaccurate, incomplete, or contradictory information

For example, if you create a Will using an online questionnaire, there is the possibility that you may select the wrong option or leave out important information that could prevent your Will from accomplishing your goals. In addition, some online services allow users to insert additional information not addressed by their questionnaire that could contradict other parts of the Will. Your do-it-yourself estate plan may not account for changing life circumstances and different scenarios that could arise. For example, if you create a Will in which you leave everything to your two children, what happens if one of those children dies before you? Will that child’s share go entirely to his or her sibling—or will it go to the child’s offspring? What if one of your children accumulates a lot of debt? Is it okay with you if the money or property the indebted child inherits is vulnerable to claims of the child’s creditors? What if your Will states your daughter will receive the family home as her only inheritance, but it is sold shortly before you die? Will she inherit nothing? As opposed to a computer program, an experienced estate planning attorney will help you think through the potential changes and contingencies that could have an impact on your estate plan and design a plan that prevents unintended results that could frustrate your estate planning goals.

Do-it-yourselfers frequently make mistakes in executing the plan

Under the law, there are certain requirements that must be met for Wills and other estate planning documents to be legally valid. For example, a Will typically requires the signatures of two witnesses, but state law differs regarding what is necessary for a Will to be validly witnessed. Some states require not only that the Will be signed by the Will maker and the witnesses, but also that they all must sign the Will in each other’s presence. In other states, witnesses are not required to be in the same room when the Will maker signs the Will, and they can even sign it later if the Will maker tells them his or her signature is valid. If you seek the help of an estate planning attorney, you can rest assured that all of the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed, and that your intentions will not be defeated because of mistakes made during the execution of your documents.

Assets may be left out of your estate plan

Many people do not realize that a trust is frequently a better estate planning tool than a Will because it avoids expensive, time-consuming, and public court proceedings (i.e., the probate process) that would otherwise be necessary to transfer your money and property to your heirs after you pass away. Even if you have created a do-it-yourself trust, if you do not fund it, that is, transfer title of your money and property into the name of the trust, it will be ineffective, and your loved ones will still have to endure the probate process to finish what you started.

We Can Help A do-it-yourself estate plan can lead to a false sense of security because it may not achieve what you think it does. If your do-it-yourself Will is not valid, your property and money will go to heirs specified by state law—who may not be the people you would have chosen. An unfunded trust will be ineffective. Banks may not accept a generic power of attorney you found on the internet. Laws affecting your estate plan may change. These are just some of the mistakes or unforeseen issues that could cost your family dearly. An experienced estate planning attorney is aware of any trends in the law that could dramatically affect your estate plan and has the expertise needed to help you design and create a comprehensive plan. Call us today so we can help provide you and your family with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have an estate plan that accomplishes your goals and will avoid unnecessary attorneys’ fees, headaches, or conflict for your grieving family when you pass away.

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