If you’ve done a basic estate planning search on the internet, chances are at some point you found an online service claiming you can draft your own estate plan for a significantly lower price than an attorney. For those in a financial bind, this may sound attractive. Do It Yourself “DIY” estate plans, although they may seem convenient, can pose significant risks especially if someone’s estate planning needs are complex.
What You Don’t Get
While people may fall for the cheaper prices DIY estate plans offer, there are drawbacks with using them. First, you lose out on legal advice and knowledge that attorneys would be able to provide. Take for example Keisha Blair, co-founder of Aspire-Canada. She was 31 when her husband passed away from a rare illness. She had two young sons and no estate plan in place, in the event something happened to her. Being young and not knowing much about estate planning, it was worth her while to seek out an attorney for legal advice. If she got remarried, would her children be protected? If her sons were carriers of the same illness, how would she change her estate plan? A complex situation like this was best handled with an attorney. Secondly, if you elect to use a DIY estate plan, estate planning attorneys typically wouldn’t handle the case. By creating a DIY estate plan, you would be taking full responsibility for making sure you understand the questions and how your answers are implicated throughout the estate plan. As a matter of fact, there are some provisions that weave through the estate plan so if you didn’t understand a question, that answer may have affects throughout the document. You likely will not have the ability to discuss this information with an attorney. Most attorneys wouldn’t want to be liable for a DIY estate plan so if they choose to handle your case, they would restate the estate plan in its entirety. This would mean you wasted time and money on an estate plan that wasn’t even used.
Things May be Left Out
DIY estate plans may also be missing small things that may not seem like a big deal, but can cause serious complications down the line. Elijah Kovar, a financial adviser, says he’s seen a lot of these online estate planning services not have things like a place to name a contingent trustee or beneficiary. Attorneys are paid to know this subject matter and will make sure you aren’t missing any information. If you don’t know it’s supposed to be there in the first place, you won’t know if it’s missing. With an attorney, they will make sure you provide all the required information. In addition to the information needed, the language used in the documents has to be correct. Failure to use correct terms and vocabulary can void an estate plan and may make your dispositions not enforceable.
It’s safe to say that someone who isn’t aware of estate planning laws is more likely to make a mistake in drafting an estate plan as opposed to an experienced attorney. A DIY estate plan becomes more susceptible to a challenge for people who aren’t fully qualified in putting together their documents. Jeff Henninger, a litigator, once handled a dispute with a family involving two brothers and two DIY wills. One of the wills distributed their mother’s assets equally among the two brothers, while the other (which was written at a later date) favored the brother who acted as the mother’s caretaker. The brother who lost significant assets accused the brother serving as the caretaker of pressuring their mom into signing the new will. If the estate plan had been done with an attorney, this could still lead to a dispute. The difference is an attorney can testify as an impartial third party in court about the mother’s competence and ability to understand and express her intentions on how her assets would be distributed. Otherwise, it can become a case of “he said” “she said” with no way to know the deceased’s real intentions.
Most online DIY estate plans don’t take into account special circumstances and don’t provide services to handle them. The most common example of this is special needs planning. Planning for individuals with special needs requires additional paperwork and documents to be prepared which DIY estate plans don’t provide. One attorney noted that when he informed an advisor from LegalZoom about a special needs inquiry, the advisor said they should consult an attorney to prepare the necessary documents that LegalZoom doesn’t provide.
Estate planning is complicated, especially if you aren’t familiar with all of the aspects that go into it. Why leave something so important to a DIY online form? Call our office at (650) 463-1550 for a free 30-minute consultation with one of our attorneys to get your estate plan started.