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Why You Should Be Leery of Mass-Produced and Television Advertised Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Documents

I have recently reviewed two separate estate planning documents that were generated by a nationally advertised legal documents “mill”. You know the one; it has a famous attorney spokesman wearing a smug smile telling you how cheap it is to start your own LLC, corporation, or create your own estate plan.

Neither of their documents I looked at were correct. One did not have the right signature clauses and would be difficult for the courts to process. The second left out an essential part of any estate plan.

It is not that the cookie-cutter documents are always badly drafted. It is a matter of being penny-wise and pound foolish. You have to know what a good estate plan looks like before you can even begin to use a standard form. While a will can appear to be pretty straightforward, there are a lot of other things to think about. Many things bypass the will, and yet you may believe that your will is in control. Life insurance, annuities, 401Ks, IRAs, and jointly held assets come to mind.

People also don’t think about what will happen if one of their children dies before they do. What happens to the will and that child’s share? This is a common problem that can be addressed in a will. But you have to think about it first. We address that in our estate planning, because it happens.

An attorney can also advise you about things that do not work well in a will. I do not like to have co-personal representatives or co-executors. Also, I do not like gifts of a little tiny bit of money to each of a zillion relatives. These create an awkward and cumbersome process for probate or trust administration, and a potential source of disagreement. We can talk about that kind of thing when we discuss your estate plan. Mass-produced documents cannot talk to you.

There is a difference between the probate process and the process of administering a living trust. When we talk about your choices, I can explain those differences. This in turn may dictate whether you have a will, or whether you settle on the idea of a living trust. These are not discussions that you can hold with the producer of cookie-cutter documents.

It seems like many Curry County estates run between $300,000.00 and $1,000,000.00 in size. What we do in your estate plan can depend on the size of your estate. Sometimes, some estate tax planning is necessary to avoid the need for paying taxes. You are not going to get considered and thoughtful advice from the producer of cookie-cutter documents.

If the size of your estate is larger than $100,000.00, do you really want to save $200.00 or $300.00 and end up with a cookie-cutter document that may or may not fit your situation?

I take extensive notes about my conversations with you. They go into your confidential file in my office and are not shared. I fully expect to be called as a witness as to your competency or your intentions if there is ever a challenge to your estate. My notes will be in the file, and help insulate your estate plan from challenges. You do not have that safety net if you do your own document that you buy for $89.00 from a cookie-cutter producer.

In this day and age, blended families are becoming predominant. A blended family is where each of the spouses has children by a prior relationship. Blended families are far more likely to have litigation and will challenges. The people who stand to inherit the estate are not true brothers and sisters. An attorney’s notes can be critical in the event of a dispute down the road.

Everybody’s situation is different. Some are blended families. Some face the prospect of estate taxes. Executors of the will can be close or far away. There may be other documents such as a power of attorney that are necessary, in addition to a will or a living trust. There may be other assets that are not covered by a will. The kind of estate may determine the ease or simplicity of the processing of the estate down the road.

There are far too many variables (even with a “simple” estate) to buy an estate plan off of the internet or based upon a television ad. Having 30 years of experience in estate planning helps me help you in deciding what is most appropriate for you. It does not make sense to save a little bit of money by buying a mass-produced cookie-cutter document. That creates the risk that the fruits of your life’s work will not go in the way you intended.

If you have bought one of these cookie-cutter documents, you should probably have it reviewed by an attorney anyway. Better yet, don’t waste your money that way. Design your estate plan with the help of a competent expert. It will be worth it.

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