You may occasionally wonder about using online “Will kits” or software to produce estate planning documents. These kits are popular because they’re cheap. However, as an experienced wills lawyer I must caution you about the risk of subjecting your survivors to unnecessary legal fees to fix what often turns out to be incomplete or ineffective problematic documents.
Nothing Compares to Legal Experience
These programs cannot perform a detailed legal analysis of a user’s true estate planning needs. They also don’t address crucial planning issues such as if a child has problems with debt, is anticipating a divorce or has special needs.
Estate planning attorneys generally have detailed discussions with clients about their financial situation, goals and family relationships. Most reputable ones do not sell “cookie-cutter” planning documents. They customize estate plans to meet each client’s unique family goals and financial needs.
Here’s a short list of the “why nots” to help educate you on the risks associated with Will and Trust kits:
1. State Probate Laws Vary
Most estate planning kits don’t address variations in state law. Since there is no national probate code, a computer program or website cannot hope to replicate the knowledge of a qualified estate planning attorney who knows the intricacies of state law. What might be allowed in one state might not be allowed in others.
2. Undesired Results
Using a do-it-yourself Will or other estate planning kits may have undesired consequences. Defective forms or violations of state law are not apparent to most people when their documents are signed. It might be only after a death when such problems are discovered, which is too late to revise documents. Survivors may find that a Will devised from a kit does not accomplish what the deceased wanted and the local courts won’t allow changes. You may also be missing out on some wonderful planning opportunities, which the do-it-yourself kit didn’t acknowledge or offer, which may have served your family well.
3. Blended Families Bring Complexities
Many people have been married more than once, or they’ve had more than one relationship that produced children or brought with it step-children. When parents draft do-it-yourself documents leaving an estate to their “children,” legal chaos can ensue. It often takes a court to sort out what a parent actually wanted to accomplish. Do you want to leave your property to your entire extended family (stepchildren included), or merely to your biological children? There are usually many other issues as well that need to be discussed and resolved when creating an estate plan for a blended family.
4. Special Rules for Special Needs Children
An entire category of Trusts is designed to work within the complex rules and restrictions of government-managed disability benefits. Once again, do-it-yourself estate planning plans don’t account for these special rules. An improper distribution from a parent’s do-it-yourself estate plan could result in your child losing disability benefits, health insurance, educational benefits or an assisted living arrangement. It can also mean the disappearance of the child’s inheritance due to mismanagement or someone taking advantage of the child.
Avoid the Trap
An estate planning attorney can save you from the trap of a do-it-yourself estate plan. Will and Trust kits can seem like a great bargain, but the eventual cost for your family could be quite high. The old adage really is true – you get what you pay for. If you have a specific estate planning question or concern, please contact attorney Kenneth Barney at (480) 833-1113.
Attorney Profile: Kenneth C. Barney, Firm Partner
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