The Spooky Side of DIY Estate Planning
We live in a culture of immediacy. Want to lounge in your sweats and have dinner delivered? UberEats has you covered. Forget to mail Grandma’s birthday gift? Look no further than Amazon Prime same day delivery. Time for a bathroom renovation? Easy-peasy; nothing an HGTV marathon and a few YouTube tutorials can’t tackle. In today’s world of having so much information at our fingertips, it becomes increasingly important that we thoughtfully consider where we can afford to cut corners. DIY projects can be seriously satisfying but can also expose ugly shortcomings. Do-it-yourself estate planning, for example, can offer a false sense of security.
On the one hand, yay! You finally have a will. On the other hand, yipes! An experienced estate planning attorney could poke so many holes in it that there’s no way to effectively carry out your wishes. We all have *that* friend who refuses to go to the doctor and instead self-diagnoses with the help of Dr. Google and WebMD. (Insert eye roll.) This friend seriously discounts the hours of studying and training that medical doctors have undergone, not to mention the level of expertise they command. This is much the same for attorneys who practice in a specific area of the law. When it comes to estate planning, do not discount the wealth of knowledge that an estate planning attorney brings to the table.
One major danger with DIY estate planning is that each state has its own requirements and formalities for making documents legal and valid. For example, Oregon requires that a person creating a will must be 18 years old, of sound mind, and that the signing be witnessed by two witnesses. If the requirements aren’t followed with precision, documents might well be invalid. Despite their best guarantee, DIY estate planning websites and the documents they produce may not conform to state law.
DIY sites use questionnaires to plug answers into a will template. In the same vein, many estate planning firms, including ours, use intake questionnaires to begin the estate planning process. Therein lies the difference. In the DIY scenario, the questionnaire is used to start and end the planning process, whereas with an attorney, it’s merely a jumping off point. From the questionnaire, an estate planning attorney will guide a client through a comprehensive estate planning process, tailoring each document to meet that client’s specific needs. Why is this important? A one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning does not serve anyone well. We must be able to plan for spouses, children, grandchildren, blended families, special circumstances, and build in provisions and protections where they are needed. Where a simple DIY site can regurgitate answers into a template leaving room for incomplete or contradictory information, an estate planning attorney will go the extra mile, learning about and meeting a client’s specific needs, and leaving no stone unturned to achieve the planning goals of the client.
While DIY estate plans might appear easy and cost effective, they fall short in several areas. Unlike an attorney, these programs do not account for multiple scenarios or changes down the road. They simply don’t have the know-how to get a client’s goals right, which leaves a lot of room for costly mistakes. DIY plans are also more difficult to edit with time, whereas with an estate planning attorney, one can schedule checkpoints as life changes occur. It is critical that estate planning not be seen as a “one and done” process; our lives change in meaningful ways, and our estate plans need to reflect and honor those changes. A good estate planning attorney will stay connected to you over the years.
As a final note, it is devastating to discover that there’s a problem with an estate plan at the precise moment it is needed. DIY estate planning is not worth that risk. Creating an effective and comprehensive estate plan that protects you and your family, and that takes into consideration your exact set of circumstances, is worth the time and money of hiring an attorney skilled in estate planning.