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Do It Yourself Estate Planning: 5 Ways It Can Fail - Part 2

Do a Google search for “digital wills” or “online estate planning,” and you’ll find dozens of different websites offering low-cost, do-it-yourself (DIY) and sometimes even free estate planning documents, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives. From LegalZoom® and Rocket Lawyer® to and, these DIY legal documents may seem like a cheap and easy way to finally cross estate planning off your to-do list—and do so without having to pay a lawyer big bucks to assist you. After all, you’ve been able to prepare and file your taxes online for years, is estate planning really that much different? And aren’t lawyers using the very same forms you find on these DIY document websites?

An Inconvenient Truth This kind of thinking is exactly what DIY and online estate planning services would like you to embrace. But relying on DIY or online estate planning documents can be one of the costliest mistakes you can make for your loved ones. Keep in mind, just because you created “legal” documents those document will not necessarily actually work when you—or most importantly, the people you love—need them.

Keep in mind, just because you created “legal” estate planning documents doesn’t mean they will actually work when you—or most importantly, the people you love—need them. Without a thorough understanding of what creative plan design options are available for your specific situation and how the legal process works upon your death or incapacity, you are likely to make mistakes or overlook important choices when creating a DIY or online estate plan.

Last week, in part one of this series, we covered the first two ways DIY estate plans can fail, and here, we’ll cover the remaining three.

Number 3 Way Your DIY Estate Plan Can Fail: Choosing the Wrong Executors or Trustees State laws are specific about who can serve in certain roles like executor, trustee, or financial power of attorney. In some states, for instance, the executor of your will must either be a family member or an in-law, and if not, the person must live in your state. If your chosen executor doesn’t meet those requirements, he or she cannot serve.

Furthermore, some states require the person you name as your executor to get a bond, which is like an insurance policy, before he or she can serve. Such bonds can be difficult to get for someone who has a less-than-stellar credit score. If your executor cannot get a bond, it would be up to the court to appoint someone as your executor, which could end up being someone you would never want managing your assets or a third-party professional, who could drain your estate with costly fees.

Number 4 Way Your DIY Estate Plan Can Fail: Lost and Unclaimed Assets Unless your family knows exactly what assets you own and how to locate and access those assets, that property is as good as gone when you die—and your online will won’t be of any use to your family. In fact, there’s currently more than $50 billion worth of unclaimed property sitting in the different state Departments of Unclaimed Property across the U.S. because a family member died and their loved ones lost track of their assets.

To ensure that none of your assets end up in our state’s Department of Unclaimed Property, and your family will know exactly what you have and how to find everything if something happens to you, it's essential that you keep a regularly updated inventory of all your assets. We not only can help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, we can remind you to regularly update it.

Number 5 Way Your DIY Estate Plan Can Fail: Unforeseen Conflict Between Family Members Family dynamics can be—to put it lightly—complex. This is particularly true for blended families where each spouse has children from previous relationships. A DIY service will not help you consider all the potentials for conflict and help you plan ahead to avoid disputes. Even the best set of documents can't anticipate and navigate every complex emotional matter—but working with attorneys to develop a long-term relationship can provide the kind of counsel, education, and guidance to navigate those complex dynamics.

We've seen families have to struggle emotionally and financially due to poor estate planning. Yet, we also see families brought closer together when the plan works as it was meant to. When done right, the estate planning process is actually a huge opportunity to build new connections within your family.

Proactive estate planning to prevent unnecessary heartache is what we do and one of the primary reasons to work with us rather than rely on DIY planning documents.

The Kind Of Planning Your Family Deserves When it comes to estate planning, the documents you use are only as good as the understanding you (or the lawyer who wrote them) has about your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and how the law will apply to your situation at your death or incapacity. Once they are educated, most people want far more than just a few fill-in-the blank documents.

If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ as your first step in our Life & Legacy Planning Process. During our meeting, we’ll take you through an analysis of your assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen to your loved ones when you die or if you become incapacitated. If you learn in that meeting that the plan that works for you can be accomplished with DIY planning and you want to do that, we will support you. However, if you decide you would like us to draft a plan for you, we’ll work together to design a plan that achieves the best outcome at a price that’s right for you.

When you meet with us, you'll understand why your asset inventory is so important, including how your assets are titled. We'll take the time to get to know your family and help you to include them so they know what your planning strategies are and why you made the choices you did. And if you are the parent of minor children, we will put safeguards in place to ensure that your kids are never placed into the care of strangers, even temporarily. A thoughtful and thorough plan will leave behind more than your money and things, it will leave a legacy of your values, insights, and can include your stories and mementos.

Life & Legacy Planning Estate planning is about far more than planning for your death and giving your things away—it’s about creating a legacy worth leaving.

Our goal is to educate, empower, and support you to make the right decisions for the people you love, and get to know what really matters most to you. We aren’t just here to serve you—we’re here to serve your entire family. Our services go beyond filling out some forms for you, watching you sign, and then sending you on your way and then never see you again. We value our relationship and want to serve you as your life and the law change. Sometimes the DIY approach works out, but you need to ask if you're really willing to risk the anxiety and unnecessary heartache and costs to find out.

This article is a service of Jennifer Winegardner. We don't just draft documents; we ensure help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session at no charge.

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