There are websites on the Internet that sell do-it-yourself estate planning documents like last wills, and they contend that it is very easy to plan your own estate without legal assistance. In reality, this is an inaccurate statement, and you do not have to take our word for it.
Several years ago, the highly regarded publication Consumer Reports put the question of DIY estate planning effectiveness under the microscope. They had people on their staff use downloads and worksheets that were obtained from three of the leading legal document purveyors to create last wills using hypothetical circumstances.
A trio of highly regarded legal professors were engaged to examine the documents. All things considered, they were not impressed, and they warned against unintended consequences that can come about if a layperson was to go the DIY route. At the end of the day, Consumer Reports stated that these boilerplate templates are no substitute for licensed attorneys.
To bolster this general recommendation, we will look at five compelling reasons why you would do well to consult with a lawyer before you make any estate planning decisions.
Understand the Drawbacks of a Last Will
Far too many people assume that a last will is a document that will facilitate quick, easy, and uncomplicated asset transfers. In reality, this is a widely held misconception.
A will must be admitted to probate, and this is a legal process that takes place under the supervision of a court. No inheritances can be distributed while an estate is being probated, and it will take 6 to 8 months to a year or more in most jurisdictions, and it can take significantly longer when complications arise.
Another negative is the cost factor. Innumerable expenses accumulate during probate, including legal fees, court costs, the executor’s remuneration, accounting expenses, appraisal and liquidation fees, and incidentals. All in all, this red ink can consume a significant portion of the estate before it is transferred to the heirs.
Probate is an open proceeding, so anyone that is interested can access probate records to find out how the assets were distributed. It also opens a window of opportunity for disgruntled parties that may want to challenge the validity of the will for selfish reasons.
Explore the Alternatives
Your estate planning lawyer will gain an understanding of your situation and explain alternatives to a last will if there is a better approach. There are many different tools in the estate planning toolkit, and the right course of action will depend upon the circumstances.
Consider the Life Situation of Your Heirs
Estate planning is often looked upon as something that is a one-way street. The idea is that you determine who will be getting what, you choose an asset transfer vehicle, and the distributions will be facilitated in the same manner for everyone.
This is a shortsighted approach, because the transfer method that is right for one person may not be appropriate for the next. For example, it is possible to include spendthrift protections for someone that is not good with money, but this may not be necessary for another individual on your inheritance list.
Special needs planning is another consideration if you have someone with a disability in the family. You have to take the right steps to make the person more comfortable without impacting eligibility for need-based government benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
Prepare for Nursing Home Costs
Most senior citizens will require some type of living assistance, and about 35% of elders will ultimately reside in nursing homes. These facilities are very expensive, and Medicare does not pay for long-term care.
Your legacy could potentially wind up in the coffers of a nursing home if you do not prepare for this eventuality in advance. An attorney from our firm can help you devise a nursing home asset protection strategy.
There is more to the process of estate planning than the financial component. A significant percentage of people that reach an advanced age become unable to make sound decisions on their own. A guardian could be appointed by the state to take over your decision-making if you do not take the matter into your own hands in advance.
This is another facet that we can help you address so that you can construct your plan in a manner that acknowledges the possibility of latter life incapacity.
We Are Here to Help!
If you are ready to have a conversation with an estate planning attorney from our firm, you can send us a message to request a consultation appointment, and we can be reached by phone at 585-374-5210.
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