Recent economic times caused many people to take on a lot of home projects that they otherwise would have hired out to a handyman. While some do-it-yourself (DIY) projects turned out alright, people often found that seemingly easy projects were significantly more complicated than they had anticipated. Worse yet, sometimes these DIY projects even end with disastrous consequences, requiring calling in professionals to fix the job at greater hassle and cost than would have originally been incurred if the professional had been called in the first place.
The same can be said for estate planning.
DIY Estate Planning “Kits” And Pre-Packaged Computer Software Are Not The Answer
Regardless of how smart or talented someone is in other areas of his or her life, proper estate planning is not something that can be done out of a DIY “kit” or on some software package.
Do-it-yourself kits are notoriously inadequate and incomplete. At best, they can be a waste of money. At worst, they can be an outright scam to bilk you out of your entire estate. According to AARP, older adults are frequent targets of fraudulent and deceptive business practices and a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when considering estate planning services.
In particular, AARP warns against living trust kits and seminars, as well as “free lunch” financial seminars. The organization advises, “If you want to know if a trust is right for you, seek advice from a licensed and experienced estate-planning attorney.”
In similar fashion, Consumer Reports advises against using pre-packaged estate planning software in all but the most simple of estate planning circumstances. Consumer Reports tested several brands of software using profiles of individuals from three different New York families.
Using the various estate planning software (which operates like tax software), Consumer Reports found problems with all software packages that were tested. These problems included:
-Outdated information- some of the software products referred to federal estate-tax limits that were outdated;
-Insufficient customization- the products did not give sufficient detail on state laws and offered no guidance on certain situations;
-Too little flexibility in some cases- the products created arbitrary limits and would not allow certain distributions to be made as desired, despite the legality of such distributions;
-Too much flexibility in other cases- the editing and open ended narrative features of some programs allowed information to be added that could outright contradict other parts of the will document;
-Incompleteness- important matters related to estate dispositions were omitted from each of the software programs considered, including certain critical tax matters.
As the AARP and Consumer Reports reviews show, no DIY kit or prepackaged computer software can adequately substitute for the skills and individual attention of an estate planning expert.
Estate Planning Is Important Enough To Use A Professional
End of life planning involves considering an individual’s very unique and personal circumstances. It involves important decisions on how your life and property will be handled if you become incapacitated, as well as how your property and assets will be distributed when you pass on. And there is no one-size-fits all answer for these questions.
Further, while drafting up a will, trust, or power of attorney may seem like a relatively simple task, any mistake in preparing these estate planning documents can create catastrophically bad results down the line.
An experienced estate planning attorney has knowledge of several areas of the law, including estate planning, tax law, real estate law, elder law, and business law, as well as succession planning. He or she can make sure your end of life intentions are properly expressed and honored.