Caution: Do-It-Yourself Wills

 

Is it a good idea to write your own will? I can’t answer that question without being somewhat biased, because as an attorney, I know that there are complex and unique issues that each family and individual faces. Therefore, it does concern me when I hear of someone writing his or her own will without an attorney’s help.

My mission as an attorney is to build a long-term relationship with each client and provide superior service to him or her. The stack of paper in a binder or folder that I eventually hand to my clients is not what they find valuable. They just find it heavy! So the question is, where is the value in working with an attorney on my estate plan? My clients tell me that they find value knowing that they have a trusted legal advisor that has taken the time to learn about their needs, their goals, and the unique aspects of their lives. Unique lives translate into unique estate plans.

When I hear about do-it-yourself estate planning, I can’t help but get nervous for the folks that use those products. Here’s what concerns me about folks writing their own will:

  1. Failure to protect your assets: As an attorney, I always talk to my clients about their kids and grandkids, and I make sure that an asset protection plan is put in place. I want to make sure the client’s kids or grandkids are protected from themselves and others, including their creditors, spouses (or ex-spouses), business partners, legal judgments, etc. I can assure you that you cannot design a one-size fits all form for an asset protection plan, which is more important than ever today.
     
  2. Failure to create an asset preservation plan: A will and power of attorney is important but only the start for many estate plans. A major concern for retirees and people close to retiring is making sure an asset preservation plan is crafted, so that if you go into a nursing home, the house will be safe and some assets will also be safe from Medicaid spend down.
     
  3. False sense of protection: Doing it yourself and convincing yourself you only need the “simple will” may give you a false sense of protection, when in fact your situation is more complex. By complex, I mean things like second marriages, kids with financial issues, real estate under water, uncertain financial future, family conflicts, etc. I can assure you that these types of issues won’t go away when you pass on—in fact, our experience shows they only magnify if they’re not dealt with while you’re still here.
     
  4. Legal issues and problems with the documents: Let’s be honest, you don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to estate planning. Work with a trusted advisor that knows what you need. Would you pull your own tooth? Do surgery on yourself? Estate planning and asset preservation is best done with the help of a professional.

Are you going to spend more money on an estate plan with an attorney? Yes. But do you really want the “cheapest” plan? Worse, are you making matters more complex by doing it yourself and saving a few bucks?

I make my living by being passionate about helping families deal with their estate planning goals, fears and hopes to ensure they leave a legacy they can be proud of, no matter what happens and when it happens. Think about estate planning as saving your family time, money, aggravation, conflict, and from your estate being unnecessarily spent down on long-term care. Then, the real value of working with a professional will be realized.