Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema
For do-it-yourself types, the internet is an invaluable resource for obtaining information and advice about how to tackle a number of projects. This includes everything from finishing the basement to drafting your own estate plan.
Rolling up one’s sleeves and doing a weekend DIY project is admirable and works great for some things in life, depending on your skill level. Estate planning, however, is not an area where the do-it-yourself approach is advisable, and while certain websites have become popular for helping people write their own budget-conscious estate plans, you usually get what you pay for.
Make sure your estate plan is thorough
One of the risks of writing your own estate plan is that you will not thoroughly address all of your estate planning needs. The needs of each person vary, of course, depending on each person’s financial and family circumstances, as well as his/her/their personal goals, and it is important to come up with an estate planning strategy that effectively addresses the totality of an individual’s circumstances, always with a mind toward the tax consequences of those decisions.
Estate planning documents should usually include, at a minimum, a last will and testament, a living will or advance health care directive, and a power of attorney assignment. While these documents can be fairly straightforward, it is important to ensure they are done right, which isn’t as simple as one might assume.
Address complex estate planning needs
Another reason to work with an experienced estate plan attorney is to identify any unexpected, complex consequences of the plan. Complex estate planning includes addressing needs such as business succession planning, Medicaid planning, special needs trusts, and strategic gifting. Careful estate planning should also take into account the changing needs of an individual, and coordinating various documents into a coherent, enforceable estate plan.
Minimize or avoid liabilities
Finally, working with an attorney helps ensure that an individual carefully avoids or minimizes any potential liabilities. This includes addressing things like estate tax avoidance or minimization, the impact of capital gains tax on surviving family members, the impact of divorce and remarriage on estate planning, and the satisfaction of creditor claims on the estate. It also includes things like avoiding fraudulent conveyances, as well as selecting appropriate trustees and providing an appropriate means of addressing issues surrounding trustees. Regardless of an individual’s specific circumstances and goals, working with experienced legal counsel can help ensure that his/her/their estate planning needs are met.