The Perils of the DIY estate plan
I’ve had several people come to me with questions about what I call “do it yourself”/DIY estate planning. I use that term to describe online or store purchased estate planning kits or software. A common example occurs when a person pays a relatively small fee for ready-made will that allows you to fill in the appropriate blanks.
What’s wrong with printing out a ready-made will? Isn’t everyone able to just fill in the appropriate forms? Why should I pay an attorney hundreds of dollars when I can get a kit for $60? Here are a few things that you might want to consider if you’ve asked any of these questions.
You only get one chance to get it right.
If you fill out a ready-made form for an insurance quote for the DMV and you make a mistake, you can just fix it and resend it. You can’t do that with your will. A will is ONLY valid after you pass. If it is invalid for any reason, you will most likely never know of its invalidity nor will you ever be able to correct the mistake.
You might not know what you need.
Estate planning is complicated. I have devoted my career to helping people with it. I don’t advise people unfamiliar with Missouri law, applicable federal law, and the Uniform Trust Code to do their own estate planning. You might need a trust to protect your interests. Maybe you only need a will. A beneficiary deed is probably beneficial to you, but do you know the best person to deed it to? Is there a possibility that your bequests may be set aside to satisfy creditors or statutory exemptions? The point of these questions is NOT to belittle anyone. Estate planning is not about intelligence. It’s about practice and dedication to perfecting plans for every individual’s needs.
The people advising you to fill out the ready-made forms might not even know what they’re talking about.
If you’re being told to get your affairs and estate plan in order by ordering an estate planning kit, you might want to think about the credentials of the person giving you the advice. Is that person an estate planning attorney or just a financial planner? Does it seem like the person is going to gain financially from you purchasing the kit? If I ever tell you that you need to replace your roof, don’t listen to me. I don’t know the first thing about roofing. Likewise, I would recommend you speaking to an estate planning attorney about any estate planning needs.
The difference in cost might be smaller than you think.
I would recommend at least speaking to an estate planning attorney and getting a quote before deciding what to do. I even offer free initial consultations. If the difference between an actual attorney and online ready-made forms is only a few hundred dollars, is it really worth potentially risking the future of your loved ones?
You can’t ask a form questions.
The ready-made forms are not going to talk back to you. They are not going to ask questions to make sure that you’re getting the right forms and doing the right thing. I, however, can and do answer questions. Your estate plan is not just a series of typed pages. It is a complicated service.
I know that my documents work.
An online kit is not going to be there when your loved ones need to file your will with a probate court. Those companies are not going to be able to testify on your behalf in court should the need arise. I’ve gone through the entire process from estate planning to finalizing a probate estate numerous times.
The analogy that I give to people who are considering purchasing an online kit in order to save some money involves dental work. If you had a toothache, would you go out to the garage and grab the first pair of pliers you could find to cram in your mouth and forcibly remove the tooth? Probably not. You’d most likely make an appointment to see a dentist who regularly assesses problems similar to yours and is trained at removing teeth and fixing toothaches. Would seeing a dentist cost more than the pliers? Probably.
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