This is a true story about a client of our firm. She became very sick and, knowing she would soon pass, wanted to make some changes to her Estate Plan. Instead of asking an attorney to draft an amendment to her Trust, she decided to simply write her own amendment on some Teddy Bear stationery.
Shortly thereafter, she passed away. The time had come to administer her Estate Plan. The handwritten amendment she had left created confusion regarding her intent for the distribution of her estate.
Because of the ambiguity of her note, the Probate Court had to help interpret what the client’s intention had been. Ultimately, the confusion created by the DIY amendment cost the client’s estate an additional $15,000.
internet Estate Planning
This real-life example illustrates well why you should never attempt to create or amend your own estate planning documents.
In recent years, websites such as NOLO and LegalZoom have popped up offering do-it-yourself estate planning. While seemingly convenient, these websites take no responsibility for their documents if they fail to work when you pass away.
A good estate planning law firm, on the other hand, takes full responsibility for the documents they draft. The attorney will be there to help, should any issues arise during the trust administration. An attorney can review memos and notes taken while meeting with you and testify what your intentions were in creating your Estate Plan should the need arise.
We have also had clients type up Estate Planning changes and get that document notarized. They do this thinking that a Notary Stamp will make the document legally binding.
Please note: A Notary Public’s only job is to verify that you proved your identity to them and that they watched you sign the document. A Notary stamp in no way validates a document’s contents.
common problems created by diy estate planning
Attempting to write your own Estate Plan or amendments can create a myriad of problems for the heirs left behind. Here are common problems that result from do-it-yourself Estate Planning:
- Having to prove to a Court that a Will was executed with the necessary legal formalities
- Failing to take advantage of appropriate tax planning
- Giving gifts inappropriately (such as to minor children, beneficiaries with drug problems, or beneficiaries who are on governmental assistance, causing them to lose their benefits)
DIY Estate Planning Costs More
While clients may hope to save a few hundred dollars by doing their own Estate Planning, the confusion and legal ambiguity created can and often does result in thousands of dollars of litigation later on.
Estate Planning Law is complex and specialized. Even attorneys who practice in other areas of the law usually hire an Estate Planning attorney to create their estate plan. If you would like to create or make changes to your Estate Plan, be sure to seek the counsel of a qualified Estate Planning attorney.