There are many software programs, and websites, that sell do-it-yourself estate planning documents. These websites and form tools 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 most straightforward 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 craft an estate plan properly. This can cause severe defects that, sadly, won’t become clear until the situation becomes a legal and financial nightmare for your loved ones.
Creating your own estate plan without professional advice can also have unintended consequences. Bad or thoughtless documents can be invalid and/or useless when needed. For example, you can create a plan that has no instructions for when a beneficiary passes away or when a specific asset left to a loved one no longer exists. You may create a trust on your own but fail to fund it, resulting in your assets being tied up in probate courts, potentially for years. Worse yet, what you leave behind may then 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. Also, non-traditional families, or those with a complicated family arrangement, need more thorough estate planning. The options available in a do-it-yourself system may not offer 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 particular circumstances.
Income and Estate Tax
If you’re a person of significant wealth, then concerns about income and estate taxes enter the picture too. Besides the federal estate tax, some states have a separate estate tax systems with significantly different tax thresholds. An online estate planning website or program that prepares basic wills without considering the size of the estate can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased (and usually avoidable) tax liability. A qualified estate planning attorney will know how to structure your legal affairs to properly manage – or, in many cases, even avoid – the burden of the death tax and minimize the impact of ongoing income taxes.
One important aspect of estate planning is protecting adult children from the adverse financial consequences of divorce, bankruptcy, lawsuits, or illness. An online planning tool will not take these other steps into account when putting together what is usually a basic estate plan. Similarly, parents with children or adult loved ones with special needs must take extra caution when planning. There are complicated rules about government benefits these loved ones may receive that must be considered, so valuable benefits are not lost due to 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. Often, the right legal solution to your situation may not be addressed by these do-it-yourself products – affecting not only you but generations to come. To make sure you are adequately protecting your family, contact us today. We’re here to help.
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