Lincoln said “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Unfortunately, this wisdom still applies to the law, legal documents, and writing your own Will, absent specific training in the law.
Even attorneys, who don’t focus on estate planning, are hesitant to write their own estate plans. Instead, they turn to their colleagues who understand probate and trust laws and are experienced in putting together estate plans that work. There is a famous story about Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger who, by drafting his own will, cost his family approximately $600,000 in unnecessary fees and taxes.
What’s Wrong With Writing Your Own Estate Plan?
Legally, you have the right to draft your own documents; however, that doesn’t mean you have the right to have them actually work. Do-it-yourselfers accidentally disinherit children, fail to protect assets from lawsuits, trigger probate, invite court interference, give assets outright to a drug addicted beneficiaries, and incur huge fees to straighten out a big mess.
Years ago, a new widow came to me with her recently departed husband’s do-it-yourself Will. Being skilled at putting things together in his own career, he carefully crafted a blend of an internet Will form and a form Power Of Attorney. Had it not been disqualified on other errors, the Will’s effect would’ve been a disaster. His widow would only receive one half of their assets, with the other half being set aside in a court-supervised account for his very young children until they turned 18 – at which point they would’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars in their own name. Admittedly, some 18-year-olds are sufficiently mature to handle a large sum. However, studies do indicate that a large sum received under the age of 25 is usually gone within one year; regardless of the amount.
Creating an effective set of estate planning documents involves many moving parts and deep analysis. An estate planning attorney will consider your family situation and financial status coupled with where you live and where you own real estate. Your goals and concerns are also carefully considered.
With a myriad of variables at play, how can a book of generic forms, computer program, or website possibly address all correctly? It can’t.
Use Books and Software to Learn About Estate Planning, Not for Estate Planning
Estate planning books and software should only be used as tools to learn about the estate planning process. Even taking an estate planning course at a local community college, like the one I teach, can help you better understand many of the complexities in this area of law. They should not be used a substitute for the hands-on, legal counseling from an experienced estate planning attorney.
While there are many tasks you can complete on your own, designing, drafting, and implementing an estate plan is not one of them.
What’s the Biggest Problem With Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning?
The biggest problem with do-it-yourself estate planning is that it often creates a huge burden for loved ones. It’s your loved ones who will find out you tried to save a few bucks and, as a result, caused a huge stressful mess that will cost thousands of dollars to fix.