There are copious amounts of information available online about do-it-yourself estate planning. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should, the same way it’s always a bad idea to represent yourself in court – even if you’re an attorney. This is not a leaky shower repair you may be able to amble your way through – this is your financial future, and the best means you have of keeping yourself and your loved ones out of probate litigation.
Although reason it’s better to have something than nothing at all (64 percent of Americans don’t have a will – 55 percent of those being parents), the fact is if you are not experienced in handling these types of complex legal matters and anticipating certain contingencies, you may end up creating even more of a mess. Far too many people underestimate the complexity of their estate. It goes beyond simply divvying up the contents of a bank account. Everything – from identifying an executor or trustee to updating your beneficiary lists to gifting money to minors – all of these things require careful consideration.
Drafting your estate plan should come only after a well-thought-out estate and financial plan. If all you do is “fill-in-the-blanks,” that is not reflective of such a process. Further, one size does not fit all, and you also need to be sure that the document you have completed meets all the requirements for what is valid in your state. For instance, F.S. 732.502 requires two witnesses to properly execute a will in Florida, while Pennsylvania requires three. Further, these witnesses must sign in the presence of the testator and each other, which generally requires a self-proving affidavit. Usually, it’s the drafting attorney who signs these affidavits in your presence, but if you do-it-yourself on the internet, you won’t have this option.
As our probate litigation attorneys in Fort Lauderdale can explain, search engines may help you dig up the necessary documents, but they aren’t going to provide you any meaningful advice that will take into account the specific elements of your personal and financial life. Some of the snags some people hit when they go for do-it-yourself estate planning:
- The law has changed. Laws can be fluid like everything else. That’s why even if you have all your planning in order, it’s a good idea to revisit it after major life changes or every few years.
- You create an unnecessary tax for yourself in cases where state and federal tax laws substantially diverge.
- Your will is no longer valid. Case-in-point: Your spouse was named as the primary beneficiary on your will, but then your spouse preceded you in death and you did not update your will. The will is no longer valid. This will mean the laws of intestate succession will kick in, which means the state decides where your assets will go. Often, it’s your next-of-kin, which may technically be individuals with whom you are not close.
- You granted assets or money to minors with no restrictions. This can lead to problems on many fronts. One way to avoid this is to establish a living revocable trust, wherein a trustee can help that minor use the money responsibly until they reach a certain age (usually around 25).
There is good logic in the phrase, “If you want to save money, hire a professional.” Although it’s not cheaper in the short-term, helping you avoid mishandled legal affairs that can bleed you of money and assets and cause strife among loved ones.
Call Fort Lauderdale Probate Litigation Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Do It Yourself Estate Planning–A Uniquely Bad Idea! May 17, 2011, By Rob Clarfeld, Forbes.com
More Blog Entries:
Does Florida Probate Court Require Families to Pay Decedent’s Debts?, March 28, 2018, Broward Probate Litigation Lawyer Blog