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DIY Estate Planning Explained by Our Chardon Attorney

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With the amount of information available on the internet, it should come as no surprise that many Americans have become “do-it-yourselfers.” A simple internet search can turn an ordinary, untrained individual into a carpenter ready to redesign his home or build a backyard shed. People who once relied on skilled tradesman or other professionals are suddenly ambitious and ready to tackle new challenges, thanks to step-by-step videos, software, self-help kits, etc. Their justification for taking on these projects….cheap, easy, and better than nothing!

However, when it comes to estate planning, the self-help kits and websites could easily lead to costly errors in planning and far more issues than a person bargained for.

Proponents of the self-prepared estate plan will tell you that it’s cheap, and not everyone can afford an attorney. They will direct you to a website that “explains the law” or a software program with fill-in documents. They will tell you that having something is better than nothing.

This line of thinking is not only risky, it can be very dangerous. The act of putting together an estate plan does not involve “one size fits all” documents that can be simply filled in like a crossword puzzle. Think about it. No two families are the same. No two situations are the same. So it stands to reason that not everyone should have the same estate planning documents. The self-help kits do not evaluate what to do if you have children from a previous relationship, beneficiaries receiving government assistance or beneficiaries dealing with special needs. There is no “one size fits all” document that helps you decide how to include a beneficiary with alcohol, drug or money issues into your estate plan. These DIY programs cannot determine whether the amount and manner of distribution of someone’s assets will subject the family to estate taxes. There are many types of trusts and other sophisticated planning techniques that exist to address these concerns, but it will take a legal mind with experience to analyze and apply the most appropriate techniques for each individual.

Even if your needs can be adequately addressed with a basic will, you must be certain that it is executed with the proper formalities, that it follows current law, and that the language you use achieves what you want to accomplish. Just one error can lead you to create documents that are invalid, ineffective, or that have unintended consequences.

The forms that are offered from self-help outlets are not legal advice and are not meant to be. In fact, these sources clearly state that they are not a substitute for an attorney and that they are prohibited from providing any kind of legal advice. Those statements alone should cause people to run straight to an attorney’s office.

Estate planning involves a lot more than producing documents. It’s impossible to know, without a legal education and years of experience, what the appropriate legal solution is to your particular situation and what planning opportunities are available. The actual documents produced are simply tools to put into effect a plan that is specifically tailored to your circumstances and goals. And to do so requires a competent attorney specializing in this particular area of law.

Most people acknowledge that they need an attorney but may shy away for fear that it will be too costly. The average cost of a proper estate plan can vary anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of your estate. But these costs are minor compared to the costs and frustrations that your loved ones may experience if there are errors in your DIY estate plan. They may have to spend thousands of dollars and many hours with attorneys to undo what was done incorrectly, or they may have to simply live with the consequences of an improper estate plan.

Before starting down the path of creating a DIY estate plan, please consider meeting with our experienced and professional estate planning attorneys. The peace of mind you receive from knowing you are in good hands will be priceless to you and your family.