In recent years, a growing number of consumers are turning to the Internet for Do It Yourself (DIY) estate planning. Like self-serve, online tax preparation, the ease of simply entering your information and having an online legal provider’s software collectively prepare the documentation for you …well, what could be better? What could possibly go wrong?
Ask any estate planning professional about online DIY provider programs and they’ll likely shower you with examples of easily avoidable nightmares… cases in which the efforts and costs involved with fixing potentially devastating problems after the fact (if it wasn't already too late) were extreme and 100% preventable.
Most consumers believe that estate planning is, at least for them, fairly straightforward: factor in and factor out.
Easy, right -- a singe home, a couple of cars, a modest savings and life insurance. But a single mistake, omission or nuanced structure of wording can be costly and negatively alter your wishes and intentions after your death. Your desire, to reduce confusion and disappointment, not to mention tamp down dispute among heirs after your death, could result in just the opposite.
Still, the promotion of these DIY programs can be alluring, after all many cite that they were created by legal professionals and feature the same structure as those used by estate attorneys throughout the nation. Any qualified legal professional will tell you, however, that having a structure – the framework of a plan – is one thing. Knowing where and how to provide additionally for individual concerns and needs, both within and beyond that structure is yet, another.
We recommend that you approach the DIY method with caution and consider some of the likely hot spots:
Uniquely You: No matter how simple you believe your estate to be, only an experienced estate-planning professional understands how to manage your unique needs within the requirements of your state; how they may, or may not affect you. Likewise, the laws of each state vary and failing to meet those laws may leave the courts no choice but to toss your plan out if challenged after your death.
An experienced attorney has dealt with a variety of common individual and family circumstances, many of which you may not have already considered. They can help you address – and avoid -- delicate situations and plan accordingly for under-aged children: should they receive any and all inherited funds at once, or staggered amounts to provide for (or demand) a college education? Likewise, what might be necessary to provide for aging parents without compromising important and necessary government benefits?
Total Asset Protection: Asset Protection includes property you hold title to in your own name, and those you don’t. A Will only controls assets for which the title is secured in your name. In addition to leaving your heirs exposed to expensive probate laws, a Will does not address items such as retirement accounts, life insurance and other items that involve a contract. Proper estate planning will include a review and guidance for all assets and provide protections that simply can’t be designed by a cookie-cutter plan.
An asset protection review, as part of your estate plan, will also examine the amount of estimated estate tax your heirs might encounter. The current estate tax exemption is $5 million, but could very well be reduced to $1 million by 2014 if Congress allows it to expire. How you plan today could have far reaching consequences in the future.
Same Sex and Unmarried Partners: Now more than ever, laws are quickly changing to recognize the rights of same sex couples, offering expanded protections providing the plan conforms to your state laws. Without proper consideration, unmarried partners may find their rights greatly limited, in both financial terms and their rights to parenting survivorship.
Whether you’re planning for the care of a beloved pet, minor or adult children, or striving to ensure that the full extent of your estate is protected from unnecessary taxation, the benefits of getting the right information from an experienced professional now – while you’re healthy, happy, and well – and your wishes cannot be over-stated.
Our final thoughts about DIY estate planning online: what’s that they say about “being a penny wise and a pound foolish”? Yep, that about sums it up.