Doing it yourself is a great idea, until it’s not. We all have a friend who is great with cars or home repairs who can help avoid a bill from the auto shop or the plumber. Some things, however, aren’t DIY projects. Whether they are too complex or require special tools, we realize that any money saved now will be repaid in time, money and frustration down the road. For everyone, and I mean everyone, estate planning is one of these projects.
At AlerStallings, we see a lot of homemade estate planning documents, ranging from professionally prepared documents with blanks filled in, to documents prepared with the “help” of an instructional guide. Our experience has shown that there are certain issues these plans almost always miss.
1. An estate plan is not just documents. A good attorney is a partner in the planning process, and continues to provide support after the documents have been finalized. This support ensures that your legal needs are handled and that when something happens to you, your attorney and your family are on the same page. This partnership is much more difficult when the attorney has to familiarize himself with your family, your situation, and your documents all at once. This increases the costs in time, money and stress for those left behind.
2. Your estate plan needs to take your concerns into account. It may seem obvious that your planning is focused on you when you’re the one doing it. In fact, it takes someone who knows you and the law to create an effective plan. If you want your estate plan to avoid probate, you must know all of the ways to avoid probate, how they relate to your situation, and which options are best. When you compound probate with long-term care, a family business, or any other concerns you have, those options get trickier to navigate. With an attorney who focuses on estate planning, the options are narrowed to those which affect you, by an advisor who helps you decide.
3. Your estate plan needs to take the law into account. Attorneys have a reputation for technical, complicated writing. We know it can be frustrating, but for every line in a document that you don’t understand, there is a story your attorney can tell you about why it was included. When documents don’t work properly, it is costly, time-consuming, and stressful. Your attorney’s job is to save you those hassles, through thorough, well-constructed documents. When you try to do it yourself, you rob yourself of the opportunity to head off those complications, and you can create problems in the future. There’s good reason why LegalZoom reveals that 80 percent of people who use fill in the blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly.
4. Someone needs to ask the tough questions. Taking a hard look at your financial and family situations can be fraught with difficulty. Whether you have a family farm, a family business, a blended family, or just a complicated relationship, there are questions that you need to answer, but that may take you out of your comfort zone. Your attorney asks these questions to ensure that your specific needs are met, rather forcing your family into a cookie-cutter plan you found in a handbook or a website.
If you have an estate plan that you created yourself from instructions you got from the library, the internet, or a television personality, we would like to meet you. We have a staff of experts who will evaluate your situation and your documents and build a plan that is tailor-made to your specific needs. Call us at 877-912-3464 to make an appointment.