In preparing written materials for a presentation I will give to other lawyers in December regarding trusts and ethics, I am reminded how often I am asked by clients: “Can’t I just get a Will or estate plan off of the internet for cheap?” For as much as I’m asked this, I need to work on a more creative answer. Yes you can. Just as if you’ve always dreamed about buying a convertible, you can buy the toy model version for much less. You won’t be able to drive it, but at least it costs less. I’ll keep thinking!
The point is, yes you can get a Will, Trust, or other estate plan documents in a sort of do-it-yourself fashion. However, like many things, what you don’t know to even consider or ask may end up costing you much more than had you just paid a professional to do it for you.
You have real estate in multiple states. Did the do-it-yourself form advise you that real estate will be subject to probate in each state, thereby costing your estate a lot of time and money? If you’re setting up a trust, did you effectively transfer your assets to the trust? But before you do, be sure you know the tax implications of each transfer.
You have a blended family, with both spouses having children from a prior relationship. Did the do-it-yourself form ask you if you wanted to include a no-contest provision (e.g. a statement that if any child contests the estate plan they will get $0?). Did it ask you if you had considered that your spouse could get remarried in the event of your death, and explain the options available to provide for your spouse during his/her lifetime but also ensure funds remain for your children after your spouse’s death?
Did the do-it-yourself program discuss with you how you want the assets to be distributed to your children? At what ages? In what proportions? Did you consider incentives so that your child would receive his/her inheritance sooner if he/she obtains a college degree?
You have farmland. Did the do-it-yourself document discuss the multiple options you have for protecting the land from creditors, reducing taxes, or keeping the land in the family for multiple generations?
The questions and fact patterns are endless, and only an experienced estate planner will know how to acquire the necessary information, ask the right questions, draft and implement an effective, workable plan.
Shortly after law school, I came to the same realization regarding my personal taxes. Newly married, I assured my husband I could easily prepare and file our tax returns – after all, I had my law degree in tow now. What I didn’t consider is that while I did just fine in tax law, I knew nothing about actually preparing and filing the tax return, especially when our joint incomes derived from both Iowa and Nebraska. It only took one correction/refiling for me to realize my time would be better spent practicing law and leaving the tax returns to a certified public accountant or enrolled agent who handles these things every day.
Just like a person diagnosed with cancer would seek out a good doctor to treat him or her, clients seek out estate planning lawyers to ensure their estate plan not only fits their goals and needs, but works. Practicing in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota, I am constantly checking the Codes to make sure the proper signing process occurs, as all three states have different requirements. I’ve seen several Internet wills which were not properly executed, and just as many that the client didn’t understand.
All of this said, the most expensive estate plan is not always the best plan. Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, limited liability companies, and other estate planning documents do not need to break your bank, and in most cases, are very affordable for the value you receive. In the words of John Ruskin, a prominent English art critic of the Victorian era, “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.
The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely on any information herein.