Do It Yourself Estate Planning Is Like Do It Yourself Brain Surgery

Some people think that estate planning is easy. They think they can use a computer program, fill in the forms, and write their own will and related estate-planning documents, and their good intentions will translate into legal documents that will be what they want and what their families will later need.

There are several computer programs that tout the “it’s easy” misconception, but the real question you need to answer is whether you and your family’s security is worth the uncertainty of prefabricated documents. Do it yourself estate planning is like do it yourself brain surgery.

Much is at risk when you do estate planning. You are risking your financial security, your family’s financial security and the peace of mind of everyone involved. If you are not an experienced estate planning attorney, you are not likely to know and understand the issues you should address, much less how to actually address them.

For example, often people decide to make gifts of specific assets to individuals. This can work out, but the estate planning documents may not become effective for years into the future. What happens when you sell the stock that was going to Bill? Or the home that was going to Mary? What if the stock becomes worthless and the home triples in value? Will Bill get a little, and Mary quite a lot? If there are expenses and taxes to pay at your death, should Bill and Mary pay part of them, or should they receive their bequests free of expenses and taxes – and let their heirs bear the burden of these costs? Additionally, should you treat your unequal children equally? Should you take into consideration your children’s respective abilities, capabilities, strength of relationship and level of responsibility and maturity? Frankly, a do it yourself computer program or form that uses a one size fits all approach will not work.

A qualified estate-planning attorney will know how to spot the issues that are important to you, and how to address them. There are many practical issues and technical legal and tax issues that you will not recognize on your own. If you use a “do it yourself” estate planning program, these issues may only come to light when 1) you are disabled and your named agents are not able to do what you wanted them to be able to do, because the documents you prepared are inadequate; or 2) you die and your heirs are fighting because the language of your documents is not clear, or because your heirs do not receive what you had intended; or 3) the IRS ends up with more of your estate than you expected. Estate planning is not a dress rehearsal, you need to get it right the first time.

While we all might like to believe we can do anything on our own, we can often get ourselves into trouble by not consulting an expert. An experienced estate-planning attorney is a vital, perceptive guide who can help you identify and achieve your goals. There are family, emotional and financial issues as well as long-term care that come into play. Regardless of where you are in your journey through life, the guidance of the right estate planning attorney can help you reach your goals and those you have for the ones you love. Do yourself a favor: do not do it yourself!

Source: The Center for Elder Law

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