The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Estate Plans

/ August 24, 2017

“D.I.Y.” You probably see that acronym often. It stands for “Do-It-Yourself” and is often used when discussing home repairs, decorating projects, or gift ideas. For example, if I need to fix a small chip in the paint on my wall, I may try to do it myself instead of hiring a painter to do it for me. My limited skill set most likely would be sufficient for a small project such as that. However, if my brakes were not working, I would hire a mechanic instead of trying to fix the brakes on my own. While it is possible that I could look up the solution to my brakes problem online or in a book, I am well aware of my limited expertise on the subject and realize that I should hire a professional instead of leaving something so important in my own hands.

The same can be said for an Estate Plan. There are D.I.Y books as well as online websites that can help you get a Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, etc.; however, there are risks associated with doing these documents on your own. First and foremost, without an attorney, the documents you get may not be the documents you thought you were getting. There are many legal terms in estate plan documents that make it very difficult to understand the document in its entirety without the help of an attorney. Additionally, if an error is made, even in how the documents are executed, it can invalidate the documents. Sometimes, the costs that come from correcting the problems created by a D.I.Y. plan can be more expensive than the plan would have cost to initially be done by an attorney. Second, an attorney does not complete a “fill-in-the-blank” form for you, but instead discusses your specific situation and goals at length to determine the right plan for you and to ensure that your documents reflect your goals. Third, an attorney does not only bring his or her knowledge and expertise, which can often be invaluable when discussing these difficult topics, but an attorney also brings resources such as other professionals, accountants, advisors, life insurance representatives, etc., to help ensure that you and your family are protected, above and beyond the estate plan documents.

Some people understand the value that an attorney can bring, but feel that an attorney is not necessary for them because they just need a “simple plan.” Unfortunately, a “simple plan” is not very common. There are a multitude of issues to consider. Do you have minor children? Do you want your children to inherit a large amount of money at one time? If you have no children, who do you want to be your beneficiaries? Are the beneficiary designations on your non-probatable assets listed correctly? Could you have a federal and/or state estate tax issue? Do you have property in more than one state? Who will act as your agents in the important roles that come with an estate plan? Do your estate plan documents correlate with your financial plan and long-term goals? These questions are asked and answered when using an attorney. Perhaps you have a “simple estate” and just need a “simple plan” but many questions need to be answered before determining that.

While at times a D.I.Y. estate plan is better than nothing, just like your brakes, your estate plan is extremely important and may be worth hiring a professional as opposed to doing it yourself. An attorney will answer your questions as well as give you the peace of mind that these important documents are done correctly and that you, your family, and your wishes are protected.