When it comes to estate planning, the internet is sometimes viewed by many as a suitable alternative to the professional assistance traditionally relied on by people who need to craft wills, trusts, and other important documents. There are a whole host of sites out there that provide so-called do-it-yourself (DIY) tools that promise readers the ability to simply fill in a few blanks and prepare their own professional documents. While this might seem like a great option for anyone who wants to avoid paying an estate planning attorney to prepare an effective estate plan, the fact is that these alternatives to seeking professional legal advice can prove disastrous at times. For a variety of reasons, an estate planning attorney is the best way to avoid the common mistakes that could invalidate your DIY plan.
Knowledge of the Law is Crucial
The laws governing probate, estate tax, and other estate planning matters can vary dramatically from state to state. Without knowledge of the laws and the processes used in your state, you could make mistakes that leave your assets unprotected. That could cause your entire plan to be open to legal challenge when you die. In the case of wills, that could result in the will being found to be invalid. Your assets would then be dispersed in accordance with the state’s intestate laws rather than according to your personal wishes.
An improperly-designed trust could fail to protect assets and leave them subject to probate. Unless you know the relevant legal standards, you can never be sure that the documents you create will withstand legal scrutiny. Even small and seemingly minor errors in these documents can create long-lasting complications for your heirs or added expense for you if you have to have an attorney fix the problem.
Will or Trust: Do You Know Which One You Need?
Without legal guidance, many people will also struggle to determine which asset protection strategies they need, and the proper way to declare their asset distribution preferences. While someone with few assets might not worry about whether or not his or her estate plan goes through probate, a person with more substantial wealth will want to secure those assets and protect them from false claims, waste, and a lengthy court-supervised process. How can you know whether your estate can get by with just a will? What do you need to do to create a trust that is guaranteed to meet your needs?
An attorney can help you to navigate the confusion and choose the right options to secure your assets and protect them from loss when you die. He or she can help you to decide between wills and trusts, and can help to prepare documents that will withstand legal challenge and accomplish your goals. And while this preparation can be somewhat costlier than those DIY options, you gain added benefit from the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve properly planned for all those end-of-life concerns.
Wealth Management Done Right
Those online forms cannot provide the help you need in a number of critical areas. For example, they cannot provide the comprehensive legal advice you’ll need to ensure that the provisions of your will are found legally binding. Nor can they assist you in properly funding a living trust and establishing the appropriate strategy for managing the wealth in that trust when you die. They certainly cannot assist you in ensuring that your estate plan is designed in a way that allows your assets to continue to work for you while you are alive. Only a professional lawyer can provide the legal guidance and strategic help you need to properly manage your wealth in a way that benefits you and your heirs over time.
Online DIY Plans Lack the Flexibility You Need
While you can find power of attorney forms and Medicaid planning information online, those resources will never have the flexibility you need to adapt them to your own unique circumstances. If there is one thing that is as true in estate planning as it is anywhere else in life, it is that we are all different from one another. Those differences necessitate different approaches to each individual’s long-term estate planning efforts. No simple fill-in-the-blank, one-size-fits-all online resource can ever provide that flexibility.
The last thing you want to do is get to your senior years and suddenly find out that you cannot qualify for Medicaid nursing home assistance because some document you filled out years before wasn’t up to the task. Nor do you want to find yourself incapacitated and suddenly learn that your power of attorney documents won’t meet your needs due to technical errors in their creation. For all of these important planning documents, proper preparation is a necessity.
Many Attorneys Don’t Object to Online Services
There’s something else that you should consider as well: a great many attorneys never bother to complain about online do-it-yourself legal documents. Given that these services represent competition for lawyers, that should cause most of us to wonder why so many attorneys seem so comfortable with DIY legal services. The answer is fairly simple. Because these self-help tools are so routinely inferior to actual legal guidance, the people who use them often have to consult with attorneys anyway. They eventually realize that they need an actual lawyer to straighten out the mess created by the DIY wills and trusts.
At Frank & Kraft Attorneys at Law, our legal team can help to ensure that you get the guidance you need to avoid the most common mistakes people make when they attempt estate planning on their own. We serve clients throughout Indianapolis and the surrounding area, providing the high-quality representation they need to protect their interests and accomplish their legal goals. To find out how an experienced estate planning attorney can help you avoid mistakes in your own plan, or to receive guidance and assistance on other estate planning and elder law issues, call our office at (317) 684-1100 or contact us through our website today.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.
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