The Internet has generated an unprecedented boom of Do-It-Yourself advice. Sure, this trend can be great if you simply want to put together an awesome bookshelf for your home (I like the invisible bookshelf, and you can find instructions for how to make it here) or build your own wine rack for the basement, but there are two fields where a DIY mentality can land you in a great deal of trouble: health and law.
Which of those two pose the greatest threat, done DIY-style? The answer may surprise you.
As much as your doctor may groan if you look up your child’s symptoms online and come in with a list of a dozen serious potential ailments, most people are not about to perform a heart transplant on their significant other. When it comes to doing something that might actually cause harm, we all tend to defer to the professionals–but therein lies the risk posed by DIY lawyering: you often don’t realize the harm done until much too late.
Nowhere is this more true than for an estate plan. As the standard estate plan is put into motion only upon your death, you won’t exactly be around to sort out the mess if all the wheels fall off. Turning to an online legal service to draft your own estate plan on the cheap could cost your family their financial future or even incite intra-family feuds that will rage for generations.
Why is DIY Estate Planning So Hazardous?
What aspects of do-it-yourself estate planning make it such a poor option? I have three reasons for you:
No Legal Advice
Consider how online legal services can afford to offer a seemingly cheap rate–rather than tailor the language of a document to fully address your specific needs and situation, they typically adopt a “fill-in-the-blanks” approach. Whatever customizability may exist rests loosely on an extremely generic foundation that could well be knocked down by the slightest legal pressure.
Perhaps more importantly, the online document drafting service cannot be there for your family to guide them through what happens after you are gone. Give some thought to this anecdote:
The untimely death of Jesse’s father was a tragedy and the cost of medical care he received in his final few hours made the limited inheritance he would pass on to his children all the smaller. He did, however, leave behind an estate plan prepared by a trusted family attorney. Without the guidance of the family attorney, Jesse and the other siblings might simply have used their inheritance to drown their sorrows with a cheap vacation. Instead, Jesse’s father made sure that each child is beneficiary of a trust fund that will direct their spending in a more productive direction.
Your family, particularly your children, will need advice on how to go on once you are no longer there. By conveying your wishes to your attorney, you can prevent them from making a huge mistake.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
There is no such thing as the “average” family–your unique familial relations affect the specifics of how you would like to see your estate distributed. With a mere online form, it is unlikely that you will be able to pin down your exact wishes in a way that will be legally-binding. This is especially important if you need to protect a special needs child or relative, or safeguard a child’s inheritance from creditors or a bitter divorce, or even protect them from themselves if they are irresponsible with money or have chemical dependency issues. Taxes will certainly pose a greater burden as well, as the one-size-fits-all nature of online forms limits the effectiveness of asset protection strategies.
More important than the wealth is your family harmony. Awful though it is, the grief following the death of a parent can trigger bitter acrimony between siblings. Whether the assets you leave behind are plentiful or much less so, the distributions risk serving as kindling for disputes and rivalry among those you love the most. Take note: it is not just about the money–the little things that might fetch a mere handful of dollars in a pawn shop may often hold the greatest emotional attachments. Adequate coverage of such things is rarely found in form documents.
Save Now, Pay Later
Browsing through the catalogue of an online document service, you may find what appears to be a bargain when compared with the rates of an estate planning attorney. However, the two services are hardly comparable when it comes to wills and trusts.
An estate planning attorney offers you an ongoing commitment to your family: from the initial crafting of an estate plan that will both fit your individual needs and stand up in court, to the tricks of the trade for tax strategy or putting money aside for long-term care. An online service is purely transactional–you enter the framework of what you desire and it returns to you a one-time approximation of what you ask for.
The role of an estate planning attorney cannot be understated when it comes to being there for your family in the face of either legal challenges or empty bickering. If they are confronted with an unexpected roadblock along the way, you want them to have someone experienced at hand to help them through it. Even better if it is someone who knew you and understood what you wanted for your family’s future.
We invite you to take advantage of our specialized legal services for families with a Family Wealth Planning Session. Call our office today at (612) 206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about designing an estate plan that fits the needs of you and your family.
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