There are many options available to create a do-it-yourself Will for little or no cost. These forms are popular because they’re cheap. In some cases, by saving money now, you are setting up your survivors to pay thousands in legal fees to fix what you created with inappropriate documents.
Free or low cost programs and forms available on the internet cannot perform a detailed legal analysis of a person’s estate planning needs. They also cannot address important planning issues, such as leaving money to a beneficiary who is disabled, in debt, or headed for a divorce. A good estate planning attorney will discuss the details of a client’s financial situation, their goals and their family relationships. Estate planning is not a “one size fits all” business. A well-drafted Will or Trust should be carefully tailored to meet the individual’s unique goals.
These are a few of the reasons why you should not trust your family’s future to a Will and Trust software kit or a form obtained from the internet:
1. State laws vary. Most estate planning software does not address variations in state law. A computer program cannot give you the knowledge and analysis of a qualified estate planning attorney who knows the intricacies of state law and how it will apply to your situation.
2. You risk unintended negative consequences. Using a do-it-yourself Will or estate planning kit may have undesired consequences. Errors in the documents may not be apparent until after your death, when it is too late to change the documents. Survivors may find that a Will made from a fill-in-the-blank form does not do what the departed loved one wanted, and expensive litigation can result.
3. Complexities of modern family life. Estate planning is about planning for your family’s future, and the family of today is more complicated than in years past. Many individuals have been married more than once, they’ve had children from more than one relationship, or they have step-children. Estate planning for the blended family can be particularly complex. When parents draft do-it-yourself documents leaving an estate to their “children,” it can take a court to sort out what the parent truly intended.
4. Children with special needs require special planning. There is a particular type of trust designed to benefit those who receive government benefits for the disabled. Do-it-yourself estate plans can’t possibly address all the rules and restrictions that apply to these benefits. An improper distribution from an estate plan can result in a child’s loss of disability benefits and loss of health insurance. A trust for a disabled child should be carefully structured to protect the child’s inheritance from mismanagement or exploitation.
Be Smart for the Long Run
Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. A free or low-cost Will or Trust form may seem like an obvious choice when compared to the services of an estate planning attorney who will charge hundreds or thousands of dollars. Will and Trust kits can seem like a great deal, but the future cost for your family could be quite high. The old adage really is true — you get what you pay for. Spending more for good planning now will be well worth it in the long run.