Summary: While D.I.Y. estate planning websites offer low-cost, computer-generated forms, potential customers should proceed with caution. The sites cannot provide guidance or legal advice, and any mistakes made can have a significant impact on your estate and your beneficiaries. Estate planning attorneys can address any concerns, help spot potential issues, guide you through the different options, and make sure that your paperwork is accurate and adheres to any legal requirements.
In the past several years, a number of Do-It-Yourself estate planning companies have entered the marketplace, promising low-cost, computer-generated forms. While these services do provide tools for creating your own will, potential customers should proceed with caution. Estate planning is a complex area of law, and even a simple mistake on a DIY document could have a profound impact on an estate or its beneficiaries. The results can be disastrous and irreversible. In today’s blog, we’re looking at the different ways that an attorney can help guide your estate planning process – in ways that a DIY service cannot.
Serving as a Legal Counselor
Online DIY estate planning companies are not attorneys. The sites cannot provide legal advice, and several of them recommend reaching out to an attorney if you have any questions. (Due to the complex nature of the forms, it’s likely you will have a few questions). One of the most valuable services an estate planning attorney can provide is guidance. Attorneys have extensive knowledge and experience and have helped individuals navigate through all kinds of situations and issues. They understand the roles that your family members and loved ones play in your life, and help you make the best decisions for your current lifestyle and priorities. Estate planning attorneys can walk clients through different options, unpack all of the legal terminologies, and steer you away from potential problems.
Making Sure You Meet the Technical Requirements
When you are drafting a will, a trust, or another estate planning document, there are certain requirements that you must meet in order for the forms to be correct and executed. Many of the requirements are set by state law, which can change from time to time. There are issues such as the specific language used, the contents and format of the documents, signatures needed, witnesses present, and potential multi-state conflicts. With the DIY services, many of the companies state that it is up to the client to make sure that the documents are correct and executed properly. You don’t want to put your family in the situation where they attempt to probate your will, only to find that it’s missing a required signature or wasn’t properly witnessed. An attorney can ensure that the documents are complete, correct, and that they meet the current requirements under state law.
Memorializing Your Intentions
An estate plan, in many ways, is a document that captures a person’s final wishes. They decide what will happen to their assets, who will (or will not) benefit, who may serve as a guardian or an executor, and why. If a person passes away and a dispute arises over the estate plan, a computer-generated DIY form won’t help their loved ones understand their thinking and intentions. But an estate planning attorney, the person who helped draft the documents, can provide insight into the testator’s thinking. They can help the family or the court understand whether someone’s intentions were properly ascertained, expressed, and carried out.
Addressing Any Contingencies
Major life events, such as marriage, divorce, births, or deaths, can profoundly change a person’s life. They can also change what a person wants to do with their estate. A proper estate plan should address these contingencies. What happens if a person gets divorced and they would prefer that their children receive their former spouse’s share? What if someone drafts an estate plan and then has a child – will that child be excluded from the estate? Will same-sex spouses have rights to each other’s estates, given the legal landscape? These are questions that you should discuss with an experienced estate attorney and should include in your estate plan. A DIY document is not going to give you the option of “what if” contingencies and will not protect you against changes in state or federal law.
Planning for Special Needs Family Members
Parents of special needs children may need to draft a specialized trust in order to protect their child’s inheritance and their public benefits. These forms are typically not available on DIY estate planning sites (some companies even advise you to have an attorney prepare the trust paperwork). In fact, a non-attorney might not even be aware of this specific issue or the need for a specialized estate plan. You want to make sure that your child will be protected, and an estate attorney will have the knowledge and experience to prepare the appropriate planning paperwork.
Have Additional Questions? Contact Siedentopf Law
If you are considering using a Do-It-Yourself estate planning service over an attorney, keep in mind the potential issues you could face. Estate planning is a complicated area of law and any mistakes can have a significant impact on your estate and your loved ones. An attorney can provide advice, address any concerns, help spot potential issues, guide you through the different options, and make sure that your paperwork is accurate and adheres to any legal requirements.
© Sarah Siedentopf and Siedentopf Law, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Siedentopf Law and EstateLawAtlanta.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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