The Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

“Can’t I just make my will online and transfer my assets over to my kids when (or before) I die?”

This is one of the most frequent questions we get asked.

Do-it-yourself is a strategy that can be successfully applied to a great many things in life. Unfortunately, it is rarely successfully applied to legal matters.

The laws in Florida, like in most states, involve a complex set of rules and principles cloaked in language that takes specialist knowledge to unpack. Most people find it extremely challenging to create documents that accurately convey their intentions, while also meeting all the criteria to be legally enforceable. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know.

Besides that, family situations that appear to be simple have a nasty habit of becoming complicated – and expensive to resolve.

If you want to get started with your estate plan, it generally pays to enlist the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Why is self-help estate planning best avoided?

It may sound like a great money-saving idea to do your own estate plan.

Some attorneys charge high hourly fees (though not all do!) so why not save attorney costs by downloading a will template online, filling it out and signing it yourself? Hey, presto! You have a ready-made estate plan to pass on your assets as you intend.

Unfortunately, this seldom works out as smoothly as it sounds.

To be legally enforceable, documents like wills, trusts, powers of attorney, personal directives and so on must meet certain legal requirements. Even if a document is legally valid, unless the language is clear and unambiguous, you may be setting yourself or your family up for challenges, disputes, and possible litigation in the future.

Comprehensive estate plans should not only pass on key assets to the people in your life that you care about, but also accomplish other tasks: for instance, they should protect loved ones from the loss of valuable government benefits in the event of disability, provide funds and care instructions for loved pets, and protect money from your loved one’s creditors or divorce/remarriage.

There are many moving parts in most estate plans – and these cannot all be covered by internet-based templates, that are not always state specific.

The benefits of getting assistance from an estate planning attorney

Experienced estate planning attorneys not only know the law. They also know the pitfalls to avoid and additional things to consider when preparing your estate plan that you may not have thought of yourself.

Your attorney will help you draw up the correct documentation and advise you on the best way to accomplish your unique goals.

Seasoned estate planning attorneys have experienced how estate matters can turn a death in the family into a fully-fledged family feud. They have seen how wills are contested, personal representatives or trustees questioned, the validity of trusts called into doubt, and powers of attorney debated. This all provides valuable insight and perspective into the many potential red flags in estate plans.

Most experienced estate planners know they need to cover every detail when helping clients prepare their estate plans. These are details that most people without experience cannot hope to cover in a do-it-yourself estate plan.

Going down the self-help path can leave yourself or your loved ones open to problems in the future. Mishandled legal affairs generally end badly. Estate plans are no exception.

Mistakes can cost many thousands of dollars to the unfortunate individuals on the receiving end – not to mention the stress and misery for family members who must navigate the issues at an emotional time after a death in the family.

Execution of do-it-yourself wills

When you make a will in Florida, validating it requires several legal steps.

Wills must be executed by an adult at least 18 years old and in sound mind and body. Two competent and qualified witnesses must be present, and the witnesses must sign. For a will to be self-proved, the testator/testatrix and witnesses must all sign again before a notary public.

People who prepare wills online sometimes miss these key steps. In these cases, it is too late to rectify the situation if the testator is deceased. The beneficiaries may be the ones who suffer the consequences of these mistakes.

Protect assets and loved ones with your estate plan

Creating a will or a revocable living trust and other estate planning documents is essential for protecting yourself along with your loved ones – and it is important to do it correctly.

Do-it-yourself estate planning may not be the best idea if you want the peace of mind of knowing that your documents are valid in a court of law and will prevent future problems for your family.

Call the Law Offices of Hoyt and Bryan, LLC if you need assistance in creating an estate plan that will work the way you want it to for you and your family: (407) 977-8080.

Peggy R. Hoyt - The Law Offices Of Hoyt & Bryan
About the Author: Peggy Hoyt
Peggy R. Hoyt practices in the areas of family wealth and legacy counselling, including trust and estate planning and administration, elder law, small business creation, succession and exit planning, real estate transactions and animal law.