There are many software programs, as well as websites, that sell do-it-yourself estate planning documents. These websites seem to offer a convenient and cost-effective alternative to consulting with an estate planning attorney. But do they really meet your needs and protect your family? Is online, do-it-yourself estate planning worth the perceived upfront savings?
Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
In all but the simplest scenarios, do-it-yourself estate planning is risky and can become a costly substitute for comprehensive in-person planning with a professional legal advisor. Typically, these online programs and services have significant limitations when it comes to gathering information needed to properly craft an estate plan. This can result in crucial defects that, sadly, won’t become apparent until the situation becomes a legal and financial problem for your loved ones.
Creating your own estate plan without professional advice can also have unintended consequences. Documents can be invalid and/or useless when they are needed. You may create a trust on your own but fail to fund it, resulting in your assets being tied up in the probate system. Worse yet, what you leave behind may pass to those you did not intend.
Your family situation and assets are unique. Plus, each state has its own laws governing what happens when someone becomes incapacitated or dies. These nuances may not be adequately addressed in an off-the-shelf document. In addition, complicated family scenarios require more thorough estate planning. The options available in a do-it-yourself system may not provide the solutions that are necessary. A computer program or website cannot replicate the intricate knowledge a qualified local estate planning attorney will have and use to apply to your circumstances.
If you’re a person of significant wealth, then concerns about income and estate taxes enter the picture too. In addition to the federal estate tax, some states have a separate estate tax system with significantly different tax thresholds. An online estate planning website or program that prepares basic wills without considering the size of the estate can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased (and usually completely avoidable) taxes. A qualified estate planning attorney will know how to structure your legal affairs to properly manage – or, in many cases, avoid – the burden of the death tax as well as minimize the impact of ongoing income taxes.
One important aspect of estate planning is protecting adult children from the negative financial consequences of divorce, bankruptcy, lawsuits, or illness. An online planning tool will not take these additional steps into account when putting together what is usually a basic estate plan. Similarly, parents who have children or adult loved ones with special needs must take extra caution when planning. There are complicated rules regarding government benefits that these loved ones may receive that must be considered, so that valuable benefits are not lost because they received an inheritance.
Consult an Estate Planning Attorney
No matter how good a do-it-yourself estate planning document may seem, it is no substitute for personalized advice. Estate planning is more than just document production. In many cases, the right legal solution to your situation may not be addressed by these do-it-yourself products – affecting not just you, but generations to come. To make sure you are fully protecting your family, contact us today. We’re here to help.
Posted in: Estate Planning