Many people like to take on do-it-yourself projects to save money, and they can also be a hobby of sorts. Without question, there’s a lot of useful information on the Internet, and there are YouTube videos that provide step-by-step instructions in many cases. There is nothing wrong with adopting a “can-do” attitude in a general sense, but you have to know where to draw the line.
This definitely enters the picture when it comes to estate planning documents like last wills. There are websites that sell boilerplate, fill-in-the-blanks legal documents, and they contend that anyone can execute legal devices effectively without the assistance of an attorney. There is no law that prevents you from using downloads or worksheet to create your own last will, but you may want to take pause before you go this route.
Consumer Reports Study
When you are reading a blog post on an estate planning law firm’s website that is advising against DIY estate planning documents, you may take it with a grain of salt. In reality, you do not have to take our word for it. Everyone has heard of Consumer Reports, the magazine and website that has been passing along useful, objective information to consumers for decades. They decided to put the subject of do-it-yourself estate planning under the microscope a number of years ago.
They decided to go about it in a very controlled manner. Three staffers were charged with the responsibility of creating last wills based hypothetical facts. The researchers used downloads and worksheets that they obtained from three of the leading legal document websites, so they approached the matter from a reasonably wide overview.
Consumer Reports brought in three highly regarded legal professors to examine these last wills. They stated that they found flaws, and unintended negative consequences can come about if you use one of these tools to create your own last will. In the final analysis, the publication stated that people should steer clear of do-it-yourself estate planning unless the situation is extremely simple and straightforward.
In addition to the fact that you may wind up with a last will that is not properly prepared if you do not seek out legal advice, there is another factor to consider. Are you sure that a last will is the right choice as a vehicle of asset transfer? There are other options, and you should understand them thoroughly before you make any final decisions.
For example, let’s say that you have a nephew with a disability, and you want to leave him an inheritance. He is relying on Medicaid for health insurance, and he receives income from the Supplemental Security Income program.
These are need-based benefits, and a direct inheritance through the terms of a will could cause a loss of benefit eligibility. There is an estate planning tool called a supplemental needs trust that could be used to make a loved one with special needs more comfortable without jeopardizing benefit eligibility.
When a last will is used, it must be admitted to probate, and this legal process comes with drawbacks. Expenses accumulate when the estate passes through probate, including Burlington probate attorney fees, the executor’s payment, court costs, and other expensive tasks that must be completed during the process. This red ink cuts into the inheritances that will be passed along to the people that are in line for bequests.
The time consumption is another probate pitfall. No inheritances are distributed until the estate has been probated and closed by the court, and it can often take close to a year. There is also a loss of privacy, because anyone that is interested can obtain probate records.
If you were to use a living trust instead of a last will, all of these negatives would be avoided. When you establish the document, you would name a trustee, and you would name your heirs as the beneficiaries. After you are gone, the trustee would be empowered to distribute assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with your wishes outside of the costly and time-consuming probate process.
These are a couple of examples, but there are many different tools in the estate planning toolkit. It is unwise to assume that a last will is the right choice until you have discussed the matter with a licensed estate planning attorney.
Download Our Free Worksheet!
There is a great resource you can access right now if you would like to learn more about estate planning. We have developed a very useful worksheet, and it is being offered free of charge at the present time. To get your copy, visit our estate planning worksheet download page and follow the simple directions.