If you have yet to create an estate plan, you are not alone. Despite acknowledging the importance of having an estate plan in place, about half of all Americans do not have one. When you do decide to get started on your plan, it may be tempting to turn to “Do It Yourself” forms you find on the internet. The Rochester estate planning attorneys at the Law Office of Michael Robinson, P.C. explain why using DIY documents could put your entire estate plan at risk.
Why Are DIY Documents Problematic?
In the age of the internet, where just about anything can be located with a few clicks on the keyboard, it can be tempting to go the DIY route when you create your estate plan. After all, it may seem as though you are saving both time and money while also finally getting that estate plan in place that you have put off for so long. In reality, however, you are more likely to cost your loved ones time and money down the road. What makes using DIY documents in an estate plan even worse is the fact that the problems inherent in those documents are not likely to be discovered until you are incapacitated or gone, meaning you won’t be able to fix any of the damage. Some of the more common problems that arise as a result of the use of DIY estate planning documents include:
- Incomplete distribution of your estate. One of the primary reasons for creating an estate plan is to avoid the state’s intestate succession laws. Unfortunately, however, one of the most frequent problems caused by the use of DIY estate planning forms is an incomplete distribution of the estate. If any assets are left out of your plan an intestate estate proceeding will have to be initiated – which is exactly what you were trying to avoid by creating a plan.
- Language and/or law that is out of date. The DIY forms you encounter on the internet may have been there for years. In the interim, applicable laws may have changed, making some of the language in the form, or the entire form, effectively worthless at best and ripe for litigation at worst.
- DIY forms are often not state specific. State laws govern many estate planning issues. For this reason, estate planning forms must be state specific to ensure they will be valid. Many DIY forms, however, are generic and do not include state-specific considerations.
- Failed interaction between documents. Using just one DIY legal form is risky enough; however, trying to use several that need to interact with each other is much more likely to result in failure because you need experienced legal advice to accomplish this. In an estate plan, however, the documents frequently do need to work together. When those forms don’t work together it creates a domino effect that sends your entire estate into legal chaos that can take months, even years, to sort out.
- Improper execution of the forms. State laws often require estate planning forms to be executed using the proper legal formalities for the form to be recognized as valid. This is when some DIY forms fail completely because they don’t even explain how the state you live in requires you to execute the document.
- Lack of legal advice and guidance. You may get assurances that a DIY legal document has been reviewed or created by an attorney. You may even be told that you can ask an attorney for advice if you pay for a DIY legal form online. Sending a question to an anonymous attorney over the internet, however, is no substitute for a lengthy in-person consultation with an attorney from your state who focuses his/her practice on estate planning.
Your Loved Ones Will Pay the Price
The biggest problem with using DIY documents is that it will be your loved ones who end up paying the price in the end. All too often, DIY estate planning documents end up causing protracted litigation. Not only will that cost your loved ones time and money, but it could also cause a family rift that may never completely heal. Instead of putting your assets, your loved ones, and yourself at risk by relying on DIY documents, work with an experienced estate planning attorney when you decide to create your estate plan.
Contact Rochester Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, or you are ready to get started on your estate plan, contact the Rochester estate planning attorneys at the Law Office of Michael Robinson, P.C. by calling (585) 374-5210 to schedule an appointment.