Problems with DIY Estate PLanning

Posted by Martin JohnsonMar 18, 20240 Comments

Creating an estate plan is a crucial step in managing your assets and ensuring your wishes are respected after your passing. However, when laypeople attempt to create their own estate plans without professional guidance, they often encounter several common problems. These issues can lead to unintended consequences, including legal challenges and disputes among heirs. Here are the top problems associated with DIY estate planning:

1. Lack of Legal Knowledge

Most people are not familiar with the intricate laws and regulations governing estates, wills, trusts, and other legal documents. This lack of knowledge can lead to errors in the document that render it invalid or ineffective. Estate laws vary significantly by jurisdiction, and what works in one state may not work in another.

2. Overlooking Complexities

Estate planning involves considering various factors, including the size of the estate, types of assets, family dynamics, and potential tax implications. Laypeople may not fully understand these complexities, leading to oversights that could result in significant tax liabilities or assets not being distributed as intended.

3. Improper Execution

Legal documents must be executed following specific procedures to be valid. This includes requirements for witnesses, notarization, and other formalities. Failing to execute a will or trust correctly can invalidate the entire document.

4. One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

Many DIY estate planning tools offer generic solutions that may not be suitable for everyone's unique situation. Without personalized advice, individuals might use documents that do not adequately address their needs or intentions, potentially leading to disputes among beneficiaries.

5. Failure to Update Documents

Estate plans need to be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changes in personal circumstances, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or the acquisition of significant assets. Individuals who create their own estate plans may neglect this crucial step, resulting in outdated documents that no longer reflect their wishes.

6. Not Planning for Disability or Incapacity

A comprehensive estate plan includes provisions for managing the individual's affairs in case of disability or incapacity. This often involves powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and living wills. DIY planners might overlook these critical components, leaving them and their families vulnerable in unexpected situations.

7. Misunderstanding the Role of Probate

Many people attempt to create estate plans to avoid probate without understanding what probate is and when it's necessary. This misunderstanding can lead to strategies that are ineffective or counterproductive.

8. Inadvertently Disinheriting Loved Ones

Simple mistakes or oversights in wording can lead to significant consequences, such as accidentally disinheriting a spouse, child, or other intended beneficiaries. Professional guidance helps ensure that the language used in the estate plan clearly reflects the individual's intentions.

To avoid these and other problems, it's generally recommended that individuals seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney. A professional can provide tailored advice, ensure legal requirements are met, and help avoid common pitfalls, ensuring that your estate plan accurately reflects your wishes and is executed smoothly.