When it comes to estate planning, save your do-it-yourself kits for remodeling your home. Although it has become so easy to find do-it-yourself estate planning products, resist the urge. While these products may seem like a money-saver, the reality is computer generated forms simply do not compare to estate planning through an experienced attorney. Even if the document you purchased comes with assurances that it will work as you expect, there truly is no guarantee. Estate planning simply is not a one-size-fits all endeavor.
The danger of substituting a DIY for professional legal documents
If you believe that substituting professional advice with a do-it-yourself online product is a good idea you should first consider the risks inherent in taking that course of action. Estate planning is a technical and often complicated are of law. Indeed, the American Bar Association established a Task Force for the specific purpose of analyzing the use of do-it-yourself products in estate planning to determine their value and reliability. The greatest risk to clients in preparing their own estate plan with a do-it-yourself product is the false sense of security these products tend to give.
The Do-it-Yourself Will
If you are still considering using a do-it-yourself product to create your last will and testament here is what you need to know. There may be some very limited circumstances when a DIY will could be sufficient to meet your needs. For example, people with very limited assets that are owned in their name alone can be left to their closest living relative through a basic do-it-yourself will. On the other hand, if you have more complex assets and several beneficiaries you want to inherit in different ways, using a DIY product could have serious consequences.
How DIY Wills can fail you
The most common problems we see with DIY wills, for example, is the failure to execute the will properly. There are certain requirements established in each state regarding how a will needs to be executed. In most cases, at least two witnesses need to sign the will when the person making the will signs it. In some states, many of these witnesses must be an uninterested party, meaning they are not beneficiaries of the will. Not all will DIY kits take these requirements into consideration. If you do not have your will signed and executed properly, it will not be valid.
What about do-it-yourself durable powers of attorney?
A power of attorney is another important estate planning document that conveys to your agent authority over your personal affairs. In order for a durable power of attorney to be effective it must be drafted correctly. If there are errors made in drafting the power of attorney, it is likely that it will not operate way you expect or it may be invalid. The most important thing to remember about do-it-yourself documents is that, in estate planning, one size does not fit all.
Potential problems with DIY power of attorney
Much like with a DIY will, for a power of attorney to be valid it must be executed in compliance with state law. Some states required more than witnesses to your signature. Instead, they may require the document be notarized. If your DIY form does not comply with the laws in your state, you run the risk of it being found invalid.
Certain institutions may not honor a do-it-yourself power of attorney
Even if you are fortunate enough to have your DIY power of attorney executed, there is still a chance that certain banks and other institutions will be resistant to honoring your power of attorney. If you have a professionally drafted power of attorney, prepared by an estate planning attorney, you are much more likely to be successful when your agent attempts to use the document.
Why you need to consult an experienced estate planning lawyer
The benefits of using an estate planning attorney to provide legal expertise in an area of the law that often requires drafting complex documents cannot be overstated. The reality is, DIY documents carry with them serious consequences if not drafted properly. That is why the American Bar Association’s Task Force encourages individuals to reconsider drafting their own estate planning documents. Estate planning attorneys are experienced and familiar with the laws of your state governing wills, trusts, and other estate planning tools. Without their skill and experience, your DIY estate plan may be invalid or, more likely, will not work the way you intended.
If you have questions regarding DIY products, or any other estate planning matters, contact Gaughan & Connealy for a consultation either online or by calling us at (913) 262-2000.