Doing your will online might sound cheap and easy, but you should read this list of things to watch out for first.
Cutting corners with do-it-yourself projects can be a good way of saving a couple of dollars here and there. When it comes to planning your estate, however, do-it-yourself tools and online services come with a lot of risk, especially when most problems in your will or other estate documents only become apparent after the planner’s death.
Online estate planning has become more popular as more resources have become available on the Internet, but the shortcomings of such services are important to keep in mind when you’re deciding between a do-it-yourself website and working with an attorney who is experienced in estate planning.
The Importance of Correct Planning
At its most basic, your will is the guide that people will use for distributing your property after you are gone. This means that the contents of the will need to be clear, comprehensive, and considerate of legal requirements. While leaving tangible properties to appropriate friends or relatives is important, more complex issues arise when it comes to end-of-life health decisions, power of attorney, guardians for your children, and structuring your estate in a way that makes sense financially.
An incomplete will can mean an inadmissible will, forcing a probate court to examine the contents of the estate and determine how it should be dispersed. This can often result with properties being distributed to the wrong parties.
Just as it’s important to have a will that takes the necessary matters into account, it’s important to make sure that you are current in the decisions indicated in your will. While do-it-yourself online wills can give you a sense of security (and are indeed better than making no arrangements at all), using such services make it easy to become complacent and forget to make regular updates to your will. As a result, your will may wind up including provisions that either don’t represent your current estate or don’t include the people you may have wished to include.
Why Opt for an Attorney?
The job of the attorney is to prepare himself or herself in the best way possible for serving clients’ needs, and when it comes to estate planning, that means staying educated and up-to-date on all estate tax implications and rules for transferring property and permissions at the end of life.
Estate planning attorneys do charge more than online services, but they also provide a much more comprehensive service. Whereas online services may allow for mistakes in the will or other arrangements, like forgetting to account for non-probate properties or choosing a less-than-optimal plan for paying the least amount of estate tax necessary, estate attorneys are educated on the important terms and strategies in estate planning.
Working with an estate-planning attorney is also the most effective way to account for changes in federal or state laws when it comes to the estate tax. Estate tax regulations change frequently—including a federal change at the beginning of this year—so it makes sense to work with someone who is well versed in these types of modifications.
Complex family structures can make estate planning especially difficult, and they present frequent complications for online services. Having children from past relationships or previous spouses can complicate the estate planning process, as can having to account for changes in the family, like relatives’ deaths or changes in certain relatives’ finances.
Online planning can be a good step to take if your estate involves almost no property and very few family members. In most cases, though, it can involve a variety of difficulties. Because planning your estate can involve some major decisions regarding end of life and your arrangements for your family’s future, it makes sense to pay a few dollars more and guarantee smart planning and solid advice.
The Law Firm of Northern Virginia Trusts and Estates provides estate planning services in Vienna, VA. Please contact us for more information.