Given how far web-based technology has evolved, you might think online legal document services like LegalZoom® and WillsandTrusts.com have advanced to the point where they’re a suitable alternative to having your estate plan prepared by a lawyer.
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?
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. In part one of this series, we discussed the numerous ways DIY estate planning can go wrong, and here we’ll explain how these generic documents can put the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.
Putting your children at risk
Sure, knowing that your DIY plan could fail and force your family into court and cause conflict is a distressing thought. But compare it to how you’d feel if your attempts to save money caused your children to be taken into the care of strangers?
This is exactly what could happen if you rely on a generic will and/or other legal documents you find online to name legal guardians for your kids and even if you create a plan with a lawyer, if they are not trained to plan for the unique needs of parents with minor children, they might not be able to completely prevent it. Naming and legally documenting guardians entails a number of complexities most people aren’t aware of, so lawyers with decades of experience can make mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians if that’s not what their experience is in.
So if an estate plan made with an attorney who at least knows something of the law can accidently put your kids at risk, do you really think that you will be able to do it correctly on your own?
What’s so complicated about naming guardians?
While some DIY wills allow you to name legal guardians for your kids if you die, you really should also name back-up candidates in case your first choice is unable to serve. If you named a married couple to serve and one of them is unavailable due to injury, death, or divorce, what happens then? Would it still be okay if only one of them can serve as your child’s guardian? And does it matter which one it is?
What about if you don’t die, but are instead incapacitated by an accident or illness? You might assume the guardians named in your DIY will would automatically get custody, but a will only goes into effect upon your death. That means your children are totally vulnerable.
Do the guardians you named live far from your home? If so, how long would it take them to make it to your house to pick up your kids: a few days, a few weeks? Who would care for your kids until those guardians arrive? Without legally binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, they are likely to be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.
Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, what happens if they are out of town or otherwise can’t get to your kids right away? Assuming the guardians you named can immediately get to your home to pick up your kids, do they even know where your will is located? How will they prove they’re your children’s legal guardians if they can’t find your planning documents?
These are just a few of the potential complications that could arise if you try to create your own plan naming legal guardians for your kids. If just one of these contingencies were to occur, your children would more than likely be placed into the care of strangers, even if it’s only for a short period of time.
The Kids Protection Plan®
Seeing all of the things that could go wrong, you should never trust the safety and care of your children to a DIY plan or a plan created by a lawyer unfamiliar with the unique needs of planning for parents of minor children. To ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers, even temporarily, consider creating a Kids Protection Plan®.
The Kids Protection Plan® is a comprehensive system designed specifically to address the inherent gaps in the way most estate plans document legal guardians. Personal Family Lawyers® like us, licensed by the Family Wealth Planning Institute and creator of the Kids Protection Plan®, are thoroughly trained to prepare and counsel you through this crucial process.
Guaranteeing your children’s safety is so important, we’ve even created an easy-to-use and absolutely free website you can visit right now to get started creating the legal documents naming the long-term guardians you’d want to care for your children if you could not.
If you have minor children at home, you should immediately use this resource to get started. While this is DIY, it’s the bare minimum you need to have in place if you have minor children and it at least addresses some of the issues written about above, which is more than most DIY programs do. From there, you should schedule a follow-up visit with us to put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place for you and your family.
Almost never a good idea
Perhaps the only scenario where using DIY estate planning might make sense is if you are single and have no—or extremely limited—assets and you’re just looking to name someone to make your medical and/or financial decisions if ever become incapacitated and are unable to do so for yourself.
In that case, creating those documents is a relatively simple process that should be easy enough to do on your own. In practically every other situation, the fill-in-blank forms offered by these companies are so unreliable, they’re often not worth the paper they’re printed on.
Consider what’s at stake
When building a new deck in your backyard, DIY might make sense. When it comes to estate planning, it’s 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 few bucks?
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact your Personal Family Lawyer® to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine if a simple will or some other strategy, such as a living trust, is your best option.
If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to review it. We’ll ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all of the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want to raise them.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t 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.