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The Best-Laid Plans Are Not DIY

Featured: Lisa Finn, Esq., LL.M.

As an estate planner, I’m often asked about do-it-yourself estate plans. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m not a fan. My goal is to keep my clients and their estates out of court. While DIY plans are initially easy and inexpensive to create, they frequently implode with consequences that become difficult and expensive to undo.

One planner explained it like this: stretch your arms out wide and wiggle the fingers on your left and right hands. The fingers on the left hand represent the families that won’t fight no matter what. The fingers on the right hand represent the families that will fight no matter what. The other families, like yours, are those in between.

The in-betweens may have legitimate concerns, which is why resolving those concerns requires a close look at the details in the documents. Well-intentioned planning documents are only as thorough as the actual words conveying the intention. A judge will not consider what you meant to say, but what you actually said.

Estate planning integrates property, family, probate, and contract laws, as well as creditors’ rights. Even more important, a good plan will minimize conflict and encourage family harmony. To do that, you need thoughtful—sometimes brutally honest—assessments about your wishes and how your loved ones—and equally important, their loved ones—will react and behave. Don’t assume that your easy cheap DIY plan will properly consider legal issues, accurately convey your wishes, or encourage family harmony.

Lisa Finn is of-counsel with WLF and focuses her practice on estate planning.

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