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The Perils of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

Written by: Carrell Blanton Ferris

Posted on: December 11, 2015

There is a reason that certain Internet or “over-the-counter” providers of legal documents provide disclaimers for their services, such as one that states that it is “not a law firm, does not act as your attorney and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney….if you have complex legal issues that cannot be resolved on your own, we recommend that you hire an attorney.”

Estate planning is precisely the type of complex legal issue that requires careful planning and customization for your situation.  Any kind of Do-It-Yourself estate planning, even if you are assisted by an online document service or sample form books with fill-in-the-blanks, runs the risk of failing to plan for any number of potential occurrences.

You and your Beneficiaries Deserve Peace of Mind

Do you know the legal requirements for creating a Will or Trust in Virginia?  If you don’t, how do you know if the Will or Trust you create through an Internet service or generic package purchased at an office supply store meets Virginia’s requirements?  If an estate planning document does not conform to existing state law, your estate could be administered as if you died without a Will or Trust.  Because a form book or online service will not advise you about any mistakes of legal significance in your documents, the error may not be discovered until after your death.

As a result, the beneficiaries that you intended to protect by creating an estate plan could be disinherited or have their inheritance subject to attack by creditors. Having an attorney-prepared estate plan will give you the peace of mind that you and your beneficiaries deserve.

You and Your Beneficiaries Deserve a Comprehensive Plan

Because online services or other Do-It-Yourself versions of estate planning cannot consult with you about your situation and your concerns about your beneficiaries, there is a significant risk that your plan will not be comprehensive enough.  For example, you may have decided to turn to an online legal document service to create a Will because you have minor children.  However, without a trained professional to discuss your concerns and wishes with, you may not consider all of your options or risks, e.g., what would happen to your children if you were still alive, but became incapacitated and unable to care for them. A comprehensive estate plan includes planning for disability during your life, as well as your post-death plans.  A plan that does not include disability planning can result in court involvement over your personal and financial affairs for years.  A form book or generic online source cannot ensure that you will be protected in the event of your disability.

You should weigh these concerns carefully before proceeding with creating your own estate plan without attorney assistance.  Remember that online legal document service companies, software, and form books will not be liable to you for malpractice or negligence of any sort, which may result in less safeguards in place to ensure an accurate and proper estate plan.  Most importantly, they cannot provide you with legal advice.  An estate planning attorney can analyze how to craft an estate plan that meets your needs and your intentions.  Estate planning can be complex and should not be taken lightly in an effort to save some money at the drafting stage. The knowledge that your estate planning documents have been carefully tailored to accomplish your goals will give you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out, and is a worthwhile investment in your future.

By: Rhiannon H. Hartman, Esq.

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