If you search for “digital wills” or “online estate planning” on Google, you’ll find dozens of different websites offering low-cost, do-it-yourself (DIY), and sometimes even free estate planning documents From LegalZoom® and Rocket Lawyer® to TrustandWill.com and FreeWill.com all offer documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and/or healthcare directives.
These DIY legal documents may seem like an easy way to finally cross estate planning off your to-do list without having to pay a lawyer some serious money to assist you, especially since you’ve been able to prepare and file your taxes online for years. How different can planning your estate be? Lawyers are using the exact same forms I can find online and fill out myself anyway, right?
An Inconvenient Truth
Unfortunately, this is the exact sort of thinking that can cause problems for you and/or your family in the future and relying on DIY or online estate planning documents can be one of the costliest mistakes you can make for your loved ones.
The fact of the matter is that just because you created “legal” planning documents does not mean that they will actually work when you or the people you love need them. You need a thorough understanding of your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and how the legal process works upon your death or incapacity unless you want to make serious mistakes when creating a DIY or online estate plan.
The sad thing is, these mistakes likely won’t be discovered until it’s too late and the loved ones you were trying to protect will be the very ones forced to clean up your mess. For example, they could get stuck in a costly and traumatic court process that can drag out for months or even years.
Last week, in part one of this series, we covered the first two ways DIY estate plans can fail, and here, we’ll cover the remaining three.
Choosing the Wrong Executors or Trustees
State laws are very specific about who can serve in certain roles like executor, trustee, or financial power of attorney. In some states, for instance, the executor of your will must either be a family member or an in-law, and if not, the person must live in your state. If your chosen executor doesn’t meet those requirements, he or she cannot serve.
Furthermore, some states require the person you name as your executor to get a bond, which is like an insurance policy, before he or she can serve. Such bonds can be difficult to get for someone who has a less-than-stellar credit score. If your chosen executor cannot get one, it would then be up to the court to appoint another executor who can get one, and they could end up being someone you would never want managing your assets or a third-party professional, who could drain your estate with costly fees.
Lost and Unclaimed Assets
If your family doesn’t know about some of your assets and doesn’t know how to locate and access them, that property is completely lost to them after you die. There’s currently more than $50 billion worth of unclaimed property sitting in the different state Departments of Unclaimed Property across the U.S. because a family member died and their loved ones lost track of their assets.
To keep your assets from ending up in our state’s Department of Unclaimed Property, and to ensure that your family will know exactly what you have and how to find everything if something happens to you, it’s essential that you keep a regularly updated inventory of all your assets. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, we’ll also make sure it stays regularly updated throughout your lifetime.
Unforeseen Conflict Between Family Members
Family dynamics are quite complex and there is no point in pretending otherwise. This is particularly true for blended families, where spouses have children from previous relationships. A general DIY service cannot help you consider all the potential areas where conflict might arise among your family members and help you plan ahead of time to avoid such disputes. Even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate these complex emotional matters because they cannot react to your specific needs and circumstances—but we can.
Every day we see families ripped apart due to poor estate planning, but we also see families brought closer together as a result of handling these matters in the right manner. When done right, the estate planning process is actually a huge opportunity to build new connections within your family and our lawyers are specifically trained to help you with that.
The Kind Of Planning Your Family Deserves
When it comes to estate planning, the documents you use are only as good as the understanding your lawyer has about your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and how the law will apply to your situation upon your death or incapacity. With that many variables, we find that in most cases you will need far more than just a few fill-in-the blank documents to properly address all of those complexities.
If you truly want things to be as simple as possible for the people you love when something happens to you, you want a trusted counsel who can prepare an estate plan that will achieve your desired objectives with a minimum amount of stress and conflict for the loved ones you are leaving behind. This is where a Personal Family Lawyer® comes in.
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™, which is the first step in our planning process. During this initial meeting, we’ll take you through an analysis of your assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen to your loved ones when you die or if you become incapacitated.
If, as a result of this process, we determine that you really do have a very simple situation and you want to create your own planning documents yourself online, we will support you to do that. However, if as a result of the process you decide you would like us to draft a plan for you, we’ll support you to find the optimal level of planning for a price that’s right for you.
As part of our planning process, we will inventory all of your assets and ensure they are titled in a way that will keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens to you. Moreover, we take the time to get to know your family members and include them in the planning process, so everyone affected by your plan is well-aware of what your latest planning strategies are and why you made the choices you did, along with knowing exactly what they need to do if something happens to you. If you are the parent of minor children, we will put safeguards in place to ensure that your kids are never placed into the care of strangers, even temporarily.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our planning process will ensure that it’s not just your money and tangible assets that get preserved and passed on but also your family’s intangible legacy, which includes your family’s most treasured values, insights, stories, and mementos. We capture and record your family’s legacy using a unique process known as a Family Wealth Legacy Interview, which is included with every estate plan we create.
Ultimately, we’ve discovered that estate planning is about far more than planning for your death and passing on your “estate” to your loved ones—it’s about planning for a life you love and a legacy worth leaving by the choices you make today.
In the end, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, our services go far beyond simply creating documents and then never seeing you again because your plan is designed to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity, so we aren’t just here to serve you—we’re here to serve your entire family. We will develop a relationship with you and your family that lasts not only for your lifetime but for the lifetime of your children and their children if that’s your wish.
While the DIY approach might be a good idea if you’re looking to build a new deck for your backyard, when it comes to estate planning, it can be one of the worst choices you can make. Are you really willing to put your family’s well-being and wealth at risk just to save a some money? If you want to truly do right by those you love, contact us, to get your Life & Legacy Plan started today.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.