If estate planning has been on your mind, I am sure that you have noticed hundreds of estate-planning, DIY websites, and online documents, including some from do-it-yourself online services. I appreciate that using a DIY site to draft a will can save money and time. But I’m also concerned that sometimes doing it this way could lead to expensive and unpleasant estate planning mistakes.
I recently saw one DIY estate-planning service that had typos on its site and its estate-planning “packages” had the same document labeled with three different names. Worse, the packages I looked at were missing a key estate planning document which very few users would know to ask about.
This service, like many other DIY estate-planning sites, had attorneys on staff, but access to specific help for your personal documents is rarely available. If personal advice is offered, it then appears to cost a great deal more to receive.
But what if you don’t know which questions to ask?
Online DIY Wills Vs. Hiring a Professional
For some people with complicated personal and financial lives, today’s complexities may not be fully addressed with a do-it-yourself service for wills and trusts. While many of us would prefer to fill in the blanks in silence than have to talk to anyone about our doubts or concerns, sometimes it helps — a lot — to get professional advice.
Just like tax preparation, if you prepare your taxes yourself and they end up incorrect, you could be in trouble or you and the Internal Revenue Service may end up working things out. However, if you decide to do your estate planning by yourself, and you leave something out, or make a mistake that you are unaware of, you may never know the results of your work, but your loved ones will, and they will not have the option to correct the mistakes or “work something out.”
There are a plethora of DIY options for completing your own estate plan, and they have been available almost as long as we have had the internet. (Longer, if you count all the software packages you could buy off the shelf.) With the ease and availability of these programs, and their low price, you might think more of us would have an up-to-date estate plan.
Yet according to the AARP article, Haven’t Done a Will Yet?, “only 4 in 10 American adults have a will or living trust.”
What Good Estate Planning Is All About
The power to express your own preferences and not let the court make the decision for us when we are no longer able to, is the goal of thorough estate planning. At Bedlam law, we know that the documents which provide the detailed instructions are critical to avoid court involvement, to reduce administrative confusion, and to know when our job is done.
There are four basic estate planning documents: a will, a trust, power of attorney for financial matters and an advance health care directive. If you plan to use any or all of them through a DIY site, expect to be offered a fill-in-the-blank approach. Keep in mind that each state has its own probate code (the body of law governing estate planning and implementation). The software package you use may have different names for the same documents I have listed above.
Some of the DIY sites I visited have all of these documents for you, but only if you purchase their higher-end packages. Some offer limited attorney consultation, which is typically a drop-down list of pre-written questions or responses and not an actual conversation with an attorney at all.
Pros and Cons of DIY Estate Planning
The advantage of using a DIY service is that you will have a plan, as quickly and cheaply as possible, and that may be better than having no plan at all. This is especially true regarding getting a will, power of attorney and advance health care directive. Those handle most emergencies for people who don’t own real estate or much else.
The range of DIY services also has a range of prices — like $69 for just a will, to several hundreds of dollars for what may be described as a “complete plan.” Some sites have more information than others about their options.
Most presume that you already know what you want. But the reality is that many people have no idea what they want or need. Once you get into the complexities of family dynamics and perhaps trust language specific to your state and situation, DIY estate planning can cause more challenges than working with a team of professionals.
Caution About DIY Online Wills
Based on my experience: You don’t know what you don’t know. You know some things about how you want to dispose of your assets after you die, or an approximate amount to be dispersed between the loved ones you leave behind, but, what you may not know is all the case law and legislation that have evolved into your state’s probate code or, the correct documents and verbiage that you need to include to ensure that you are the one in charge of your legacy, not the court.
Whether you decide to do an estate plane with a Trust Attorney or to create a plan with a DIY site or software, we urge you to get a plan done, and soon. You never know what surprises life will bring that will invoke the plan that you build today. Procrastination is the enemy.
Bedlam Law helps clients find independence and self-confidence by compassionately and efficiently navigating them through major changes in their life. We have expertise in Estate Planning, Trusts, Wills, Guardianship, Probate, and more.
With 30 years of experience in each area, we can help you through the complex legal strategies needed to ensure you are getting the results you deserve. More importantly, with our experience, we can help you avoid potentially damaging pitfalls. If you are an Okie, you know “Bedlam” is a fierce rivalry filled with suspense and raw emotion. Just like the iconic game, in order to win, it is absolutely essential you have a strong game plan in place and the right team needed to execute the game plan. We are that team. If you or someone you know needs to get things in order, Bedlam law offers a FREE estate evaluation. 405.232.2444. Give us a call, we can help.