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Is Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning a Mistake?

The Internet has made it very easy to find answers and instructions on just about anything, including how to create a do-it-yourself (DIY) estate plan. There are websites and software packages, along with DIY estate planning books and kits that tell prospective customers that you no longer need an attorney to create a will, trust, durable power of attorney, or advance health care directives.  If you follow the simple instructions you’ll create your own estate planning documents that will be both legal and enforceable.

Though you’ll often hear the argument that it’s inexpensive and easy and that a DIY estate plan is better than nothing at all, the consequences of not fully understanding the process and making a mistake to save a few dollars are really too great.  As you consider your options, here are a few serious potential pitfalls of creating a do-it-yourself estate plan.

Estate planning attorney advice is valuable

Do-it-yourself wills and trusts, as well as other documents, lack the most important component of a solid estate plan… the advice and counsel of an estate planning attorney.  DIY estate planning sources provide forms, but don’t provide legal advice.  In fact, if you read the fine print, they make it clear that they are prohibited from giving legal advice and are never a substitute for a lawyer.  Your estate plan involves much more than the production of documents. The most crucial aspect of any properly created estate plan involves an in-depth discussion about not only your estate, but also your specific wishes and goals.  A good estate planning attorney is both an educator and an investigator. It’s impossible to know, without legal knowledge and experience, what the best solution is to your unique situation. The actual documents produced are simply the tools used to put a plan that has been specifically tailored to your circumstances, wishes, and goals, into effect.

The laws that govern an estate is the state where the person resides when he or she dies. Individual state laws vary greatly on a lot of estate issues, including requirements for executing estate planning documents. Though some online companies, offering DIY estate planning documents, assure consumers that these documents comply with requirements of the maker’s state of residence.  But that may not be the case. An estate plan that is completed by a Virginia estate planning attorney will be written to comply with all state laws.

Do you really want a one-size-fits-all plan?

Though online estate planning software may produce a legally enforceable document, it is not flexible. It’s a one-size-fits-all, fill-in-the-blanks solution. It minimizes many of the available estate planning options that might be best for your situation, in order to create a process and document that is easy for you to comprehend and follow.

The simplicity built into the online process usually cannot and does not address many of the more complicated, yet common areas that may be specific to your circumstances.  For example, the estates of families with young children are much different than those with adult children no longer living at home, or families with a special needs child. The software treats all these scenarios the same way and asks the consumer to make estate planning decisions, often without the expertise or understanding to do so wisely.  Simply put, DIY estate plans do not have effective tools that protect the estate or the beneficiaries.

Are you making mistakes that jeopardize your estate plan?

Do-it-yourself software is typically set up to only handle simple estates and can’t deal with even the most common complexities such as children from a prior marriage, property that has appreciated in value resulting in capital gains, or estates that are large enough to be subject to estate taxes. In addition, DIY solutions generally fail to take advantage of sophisticated estate planning strategies because a one-size-fits-all package can’t account for an individual’s unique circumstances.

A DIY estate plan is made by going through an online questionnaire and there is always the risk of inadvertently making an error because you don’t understand the instructions or legal terms, give an incomplete or inaccurate answer, or even skip a question that doesn’t seem relevant to you. If any of those things happen, one of two results may occur: either your estate plan doesn’t do what you think it does, or it could be invalid in part or in its entirety.

The result is that the documents you create could include omissions or contradictions, be invalid, ineffective, or contain legal language that has consequences which you never intended.  All of this can complicate the administration of your estate. Since your DIY estate planning documents are not reviewed by an attorney, you might not know if that is the case during your lifetime. But unfortunately at your death, your beneficiaries will find out and may suffer the lasting and potentially expensive consequences of your mistakes.

Make sure your final wishes are carried out

Saving time and money by making an online DIY estate plan may sound like an appealing idea. But as stated above, there are many pitfalls and risks. The best way to ensure that your wishes for taking care of your loved ones and distributing your property are carried out after your death, is to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced estate planning attorney.

Contact Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates

Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates provides affordable estate planning services for Virginia families. Our firm understands the intricacies of estate planning and offers a range of services from simple, a la carte pricing for single items to comprehensive offerings that cover a variety of preparations.

For more information about our estate planning services, and packages, contact our office today at 703.938.3510 or visit our website: www.NorthernVirginiaTrustsAndEstates.com.