There are plenty of DIY estate planning options online, but many people ask us whether it’s safe and better than using an estate planning lawyer.
The phrase “Do It Yourself” (DIY) is usually used in home repairs. However, when it comes to DIY estate planning, many times the end result can leave you with nasty shocks and costs down the line.
In this blog, we’ll compare DIY estate planning vs. using an attorney.
Using DIY Estate Plans vs. Estate Planning Attorneys
False Sense of Security
Online DIY estate planning providers promise low-cost, computer-drafted documents that can pass as professionally-prepared documents. While that may seem great, they must be used with caution.
Relying on an automated system for legal advice and document drafting is dangerous. Software and programs have no idea about the details of your life to think outside of the box. It won’t consider how some decisions and options could leave your family’s wealth in a mess.
Even the most experienced lawyers won’t venture outside of their expertise, so why would you trust an algorithm?
Naturally, there may be times when someone simply can’t afford a lawyer. But our point is – weigh the potential future costs of your actions.
- The savings you make from avoiding paying a lawyer could come back to haunt you if the DIY service makes a costly mistake.
- DIY services can’t think outside the box or offer unique solutions to your circumstances.
- DIY documents can contain costly phrasing and typos that lead to misinterpretation.
Online Services Are Doubted By ‘American BAR Association’
The ‘American Bar Association Section of Real Property Trust & Estate Law‘ used a Task Force to evaluate DIY estate planning services. It stated that due to a number of issues, DIY options are considered inadequate and incomplete for most individuals. A more detailed report is set to be published in the future.
Is DIY Estate Planning Right for You?
So, should you draft legal documents yourself?
We know that sometimes it can be suitable to use online services. For example, if you have barely any assets to your name, no minor children, and are okay with leaving your estate to your closest surviving relative and a small budget, then it may be suitable.
However, if you have even the slightest complication in your estate and life, it is not worth the risk.
For example, if you have minor children, a pet, various assets, detailed beneficiary and inheritance wishes, a business, life insurance policies and tax concerns – then you should get legal advice from a licensed attorney.
The Consequences of Estate Planning Mistakes
It may seem like you can throw your wishes into an online service and forget about it, but one mistake here can have devastating effects.
A will, for example, is one of the only documents that protect our wishes after our deaths. Any mistake made in the drafting of a will can cause:
- Will contests
- Distressed, hurt and confused family members
- Family disputes
- Hostile litigation
- Expensive legal battles
- Your wishes being ignored or misunderstood
- Children left under undesired guardianship
An Example of a DIY Service Going Wrong
- A Tampa resident pays a small fee for a DIY will kit.
- He fills in the form, adding his wishes that he has carefully considered for years.
- He signed the will and forgot about it.
- Two years later he died.
- Upon his death, his heirs found this will and took it to the local court to be proved.
- Sadly, the DIY will kit didn’t oversee the will witnessing process. He made a crucial error in only having one witness.
- A lawsuit followed, that his children paid for, but the court couldn’t prove it in the absence of the necessary number of witnesses.
- The court’s efforts to salvage the will, the travel and related expenses cost the family thousands of dollars. Given that the estate had modest assets, this caused a huge upset.
- Had the father spent slightly more to gain the legal advice of a licensed attorney, he could have protected his family and their wealth.
Why You Should Use a Licensed Attorney and Not DIY Estate Plan:
They Provide Advice You Might Not Consider
Experienced attorneys will provide much more than just expertise in drafting documents. They will also have vast experience and training in providing legal advice.
This is something an online service cannot provide.
From life decisions to medical decisions, having a professional on your side can help you consider scenarios and options that can protect your wealth and children. Whether it’s creating a revocable living trust, drafting a health care directive or managing federal estate taxes – they open doors you may not even be aware of.
They Ensure You Use The Correct Legal Language
A person must state their wishes for asset transfer correctly. In many DIY wills, the language is either ineffective or misinterpreted.
You must use the correct legal language such as ‘testamentary intention’ and not words or phrases such as ‘I would like’.
Online services will not check your document for you. An attorney will.
Backup Your Claims in Disputes
Say your last will and testament is disputed after your death and a court hearing proceeds. Interested relatives may throw around allegations and the judge will have a very difficult time determining the intentions of a deceased person.
If the deceased person spoke to an estate planning attorney, the judge will almost always listen to them. An attorney will not benefit from the will and is a trusted individual. The result? Your wishes are protected.
An online will service cannot do this.
Power of Attorney Benefits
A power of attorney refers to the power that allows someone to sign a document for you if you’re not able to be present. Whether you’re out of the country or incapacitated, having someone you trust to sign a document can be extremely important – from financial decisions to health care powers.
Estate planning attorneys usually offer this as part of their services, whereas DIY estate planning services that don’t even know you exist do not.
Planning for Disabled Children
If your child has a learning disability or incapacity, then you may be wondering what happens to inherited funds and governmental assistance.
All parents of disabled children should consider specialized trust planning that simply won’t be provided by online services.
DIY Estate Planning Services vs Estate Planning Attorneys
|Type of Service||DIY Service||Licensed Attorneys|
|Can I Plan to Avoid Probate?||Maybe||Yes|
|Professional Legal Advice Relevant to Your State||No||Yes|
|Drafted and reviewed by an attorney||No||Yes|
|Ensures a water-tight and valid legal document||No||Yes|
|Power of Attorney Option||No||Yes|
|Can Advise on Trusts and Other Estate Plans||No||Yes|
|Can Set-Up Trusts||No||Yes|
|Facilitation of Witnesses and Notary||No||Yes|
|Cares About the Outcome of Your Estate||No||Yes|
|Recognizes You As an Individual||No||Yes|
|Works for a Law Firm||No||Yes|
|Advised by the Florida Bar?||No||Yes|
Contact a Florida Estate Planning Attorney
If you need assistance with the drafting of a legal document or advice in any areas of estate planning then contact us today
Our Florida estate planning attorneys regularly help families and parents protect their wealth in various ways, from inexpensive will drafting to complex asset protection.
Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A. is a U.S. News and World Reports Tier 1 law firm in Florida, specializing in Estate Planning & Probate since 1958. With award-winning experienced attorneys, they can help you get started with estate planning.
Schedule a free consultation today to get started or to get any questions answered.