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Damned If You Don’t, Damned If You Do-It-Yourself: Downfalls of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

Sep 25, 2012 | gabylinares | Estate Administration, Estate Planning | No Comments

By Stacey L. Worthy, J.D.

 In order to save money, you may find yourself turning to Do-It-Yourself (“DIY”) projects for everything from simple home
projects to doing your own taxes. So how hard could planning your own estate be? DIY estate-planning websites claim that they have easy-to-use software that will guide you through important issues as you execute a will. They boast that, for just $50, you will have the peace of mind that your wishes will be made clear when you die.

Services like these are undoubtedly less expensive than hiring an attorney to draft estate documents. Yet, can you be so sure that one-size-fits-all forms will actually result in legally binding documents that reflect your intentions? According the American Bar Association (“ABA”), the answer is a resounding “no!”[1] The ABA says that one of the greatest dangers of preparing an estate plan with DIY programs is that they lull clients into a false sense of security.[2]

According to the ABA, DIY programs may be appropriate only in very limited circumstances, such as if you have modest assets in your name alone and you desire to leave them all to your closest surviving relative.[3] However, anyone who has even slightly more complicated circumstances should seek professional help.[4] A will can have lasting financial and emotional consequences on your loved ones.[5] A will with drafting mistakes may profoundly alter family relationships, leaving family members, at best, confused or disappointed and, at worst, locked in hostile litigation.[6]

               Here are a few problems that can arise if you choose to use a DIY program, according to the ABA:

You can take cost-effective measures to prepare a proper will and still afford legal counsel. For instance, you can prepare before reaching out to an attorney by making a full list of all assets and liabilities, identifying potential beneficiaries, and collecting relevant documents. Taking the time to do the homework can cut costs. Even if you do decide to create a will through a DIY program, you can still have it reviewed by an attorney at low cost to ensure that it meets your expectations.

Certain jobs require professional experience. Just as most people would call an electrician rather than attempting to rewire their house, so too should you call an attorney rather than attempting to draft and execute your own estate planning documents.


[1] See Preliminary Commentary of ABA Task Force on Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning, American Bar Association, Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law, Oct. 2011 at 2, available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/rpte_ereport/2012/2_april/diy.authcheckdam.pdf.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See Preliminary Commentary of ABA Task Force on Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning, American Bar Association, Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law, Oct. 2011 at 4, available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/rpte_ereport/2012/2_april/diy.authcheckdam.pdf.

[7] Id. at 6.

[8] Id. at 4-5.

[9] Id. at 5.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 12.

[12] See Preliminary Commentary of ABA Task Force on Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning, American Bar Association, Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law, Oct. 2011 at 7, available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/rpte_ereport/2012/2_april/diy.authcheckdam.pdf.

[13] Id. at 13.

[14] Id. at 10.

[15] Id. at 7.

[16] Id. 

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