The Dangers Of Doing It Yourself

Writing your own Last Will & Testament doesn’t seem like a bad idea at first. You can do it quickly, it’s relatively inexpensive, and you can create it online without ever having to leave the comfort of your couch. However, for most of my clients, a Last Will & Testament is only the beginning of an estate plan, not an entire estate plan. What I find is that, today, many families need to be concerned about asset protection, legacy planning and elder planning—none of which can be fully addressed using just a will.

Also, let’s face it—families are much more complex today than they were 20+ years ago. We each have unique circumstances that we need to address, and those aren’t easily addressed with the text-box-and-checklist format of do-it-yourself (DIY) will software. I have seen many do-it-yourself wills over the years, and practically each one suffered from either incompleteness, contradictory information, or inadequate planning for the writer’s goals and family situation.

Below are the biggest problems with DIY planning that you should be aware of if you’re contemplating trying to write your own will:

  1. Failure to protect your assets: From what I have observed in my years of practice, the primary goal for most folks writing a will is keeping their remaining assets in their bloodlines and protecting the inheritance not just for one generation but perhaps two or three. A vast majority of my clients want to leave a lasting legacy for their family. Along with common mistakes in filling out forms (per stirpes vs. per capita, etc.), DIY wills do not adequately protect heirs from creditors, predators, lawsuits, divorcing spouses, and bankruptcy claims. This type of planning is extremely customized—not to mention extremely necessary—but it can’t be found on a form-generated document.
  2. Failure to create a long-term care plan: A will and powers of attorney are important documents that everyone needs, but they are only the start for the majority of comprehensive estate plans. As we age and live longer, a major concern for retirees and those close to retiring is ensuring you have a plan in case you need to enter a nursing home or extended care facility. Will your assets be protected from the Medicaid spend-down? Should you use insurance, a trust, or a combination of these techniques? There are many exceptions and exemptions that a DIY form will not even offer or attempt to explain, but can be employed to your benefit by a skilled elder law attorney.
  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 may be more complex and you may be overlooking critical needs. Complexities such as second marriages, children with financial issues, real estate that is “under water”, uncertain financial futures, family conflicts, elder planning needs, etc. can all present problems when the estate enters probate, if adequate protections are not in place. An attorney can help you look realistically at your needs and match planning options with your goals and concerns.
  4. Legal issues and problems with the documents: Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said “There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns… [And] there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Be honest. Absent years of experience, when it comes to estate planning you don’t know what you don’t know. To avoid a false sense of protection and get peace of mind that all contingencies are planned for, you are either going to have to learn it all yourself or work with someone who has. Would you have the confidence to pull a sore tooth after reading a book or watching a tutorial video, or would you go to a dentist? Similarly, estate planning and asset protection is best done with the guidance of a professional.

Let’s not beat around the bush—the primary reason folks go the DIY route is to save money, and you will spend more money going to an attorney. However, it will pay off in the long run—whether it be from avoiding costly estate conflicts, to protecting funds from all being spent on the nursing home, to ensuring your heirs take the wealth-generating “Stretch IRA” option. If you have a do-it-yourself will in place, it’s not too late to see me and have it reviewed. If you don’t yet have a plan, make an appointment to see me for a complimentary consultation.