A lot of people like to roll up their sleeves and embrace do-it-yourself projects, and there is certainly nothing wrong with taking the initiative to get things done on your own. It can save you money, and it can become an enjoyable hobby. This being stated, it is important to know where to draw the line when it comes to the DIY phenomenon.
There are websites on the Internet that sell do-it-yourself legal documents, including last wills and other estate planning devices. Since it doesn’t take any particular acquired skill to fill in the blanks on a worksheet, it can seem as though you can create your own will using tools that you can easily find online.
Is it wise to put an estate plan together on your own without any legal advice? This is a question that the people at the highly respected website and magazine Consumer Reports were interested in answering several years ago. To do just that, they launched an initiative that would give them some insight into the efficacy of DIY estate planning, or the lack thereof.
They assigned staff members to create last wills using downloads and worksheets that were being offered by three of the leading purveyors of do-it-yourself legal documents. In addition to wills, they actually used online tools to produce a few other legal documents that are not related to estate planning. Of course, we will stick to the last wills here.
Once the documents were in their hands, they had to find legal scholars that were qualified to examine them. Gerry Beyer from Texas Tech University School of Law was engaged, along with Norman Silber, a legal expert from Yale University. The third set of experienced eyes belonged to Hofstra University contract specialist Richard K. Neumann.
At the end of the process, they determined that there were unnecessary limitations in these templates. They found that it is unlikely that the DIY products that are on the market would meet your needs unless your intentions are extremely simple, like leaving everything to your spouse.
Understanding Your Options
The fact that you really can’t trust boilerplate documents that you can get online is only one part of the equation when it comes to the shortcomings of do-it-yourself estate planning. As a layperson, how would you know what documents you should use?
And yes, we are using the plural, because a well-constructed estate plan will cover multiple bases.
When it comes to asset transfers, a last will is not your only option, and in fact, it is not the right choice for many people. A will must be admitted to probate, which is a costly and time-consuming process that strips your family of privacy.
If you were to use a revocable living trust instead, the drawbacks of probate would be avoided. There are additional benefits that can be taken advantage of as well, like the ability to instruct the trustee to distribute limited assets over an extended period of time to protect a spendthrift heir.
This is just one of numerous different types of trusts that can be utilized when you are planning your estate. The ideal choice will depend upon the circumstances, and this is why it is important to discuss your unique situation with a licensed estate planning attorney before you make any impetuous decisions.
Getting back to the concept of multiple different objectives to address, end-of-life issues should be confronted when you are planning your estate. A significant percentage of elders become unable to make sound decisions at some point in time due to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia that is triggered by some other underlying condition.
If you have a living trust, you could name a disability trustee to manage the assets if you become unable to do so yourself. You can also add a durable power of attorney for property to give someone the ability to make decisions on your behalf concerning property that is not in the trust.
A durable power of attorney for health care decision-making will also be part of a typical incapacity plan. This is an advance directive for health care, and a living will is another advance directive that should be included. With this type of will, you state your preferences regarding the utilization of artificial life-sustaining measures.
Download Our Free Estate Planning Worksheet!
We have prepared a very useful worksheet that you can use to gain some additional insight into the estate planning process. It is being offered free of charge, and you can visit our worksheet download page to get your copy.