The Hazards of DIY Estate Planning

Across the Internet, there are legal websites that seem to offer handy, DIY-style forms and guides at rock-bottom prices. However, like the Internet itself, things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes, people find they get exactly what they pay for, or much less. The-Hazards-of-DIY-Estate-Planning

Take, for instance, the poor man who downloaded an online will and ended up leaving $200,000 to a person called “Insert Name Here.” Or even the lawyer who completed a will he’d downloaded from the web. He was so pleased with the result that he posted it on a website, then asked estate planning attorneys to review his fine work. It turned out that the will was fundamentally flawed. Just a few of the errors: First, he was remarried, with a child from both his first and second marriages, but the will left everything outright to his second wife—so she could disinherit the child of his first marriage. Next, if he had any additional children, they wouldn’t be covered. And procedurally, it didn’t have a “self-proving affidavit.” That meant that, after his death, the will’s witnesses would have to be found and testify in court as to its validity.

It’s not just the outright errors that are a source of concern over the DIY approach. Regular fluctuation in the laws affect estate planning. One small change can have enormous consequences. (For example, as U.S. News & World Report explained, for one year, and one year only, estates in excess of $3.5 million were exempt from estate tax.) Estate planning professionals spend their careers making sure that clients’ estate plans track with current law. DYI websites are unlikely to keep up with the changes.

Perhaps motivated by concerns such as these, in June, New Jersey’s Supreme Court in cracked down on legal advice websites in June. The Court ruled that these sites would have to change their business practices and register with the state bar. Whatever the outcome of that decision, it’s only created further uncertainty for the DIY legal market.

Estate planning may seem complicated, but—with the right counsel at your side—it doesn’t have to be. And, as these examples show, an experienced attorney can save you far more in the long run, then a cut-rate will from a website.

For questions about how to best secure your legacy, contact our seasoned attorneys today.