One Attorney’s Case Against Do It Yourself Estate Planning

Everywhere you turn these days, it seems you hear another advertisement for a company that can help you set up a simple will online, from the comfort of your own home.  As an estate planning attorney, it’s pretty common for friends or acquaintances to say to me, “We need to get a will.  Can we do it ourselves or do we need to use an attorney?”  

Regardless of who is asking, their financial situation, their marital status, or whether or not they have kids, my answer is going to be the same every time.  “Go see an attorney. And not just any attorney, but one who specializes in estate planning and probate.”

I’m not just saying that to generate business. I feel pretty passionately about educating people on the benefits an estate planning attorney can provide to them.  Because of that, my answer is always followed up with my reasoning, which is likely way more information than the person who asked the question actually wanted to hear.  My answer usually includes the following points:

1.  Doing it yourself will cost you more in the long run.   Generally speaking, if a client does a will herself online and then brings the will to one of the attorneys at our office to review, we end up finding one (or many) reasons that the will isn’t really up to par and we advise the client to start over with a new will.  Now they’ve paid for the online will and they’re still paying us for our services, too.

2.  You need more than just a will.  If you meet with a proficient attorney who specializes in estate planning, you’ll soon find out that estate planning is much more than just having a simple will prepared.  An excellent estate planning attorney will consider the big picture, which is the reason we ask our clients to complete a 21 page checklist before our first meeting. At a new meeting with a new client, we’ll discuss a variety of issues including avoiding probate, financial and medical powers of attorney, trusts, funeral and burial arrangements, asset protection planning, and insurance sufficiency.  These topics really only scratch the surface and don’t all apply to every client. There’s a reason we estimate our first meeting with new clients will last approximately two hours.

3.  Developing a relationship with an attorney is key. Estate planning isn’t something that you can do once and forget about forever.  We recommend that our clients review their estate plans every five years to consider changes in their lives and also learn about any potential changes in the laws.  Powers of attorney should also be updated every five years to maximize their effectiveness. By developing a relationship with an attorney whom you trust, you have a place to return every five years or so for a review and you can feel confident that your estate planning goals are continuing to be fulfilled. 

As with anything in life, you get what you pay for.  In our office, we often use the expression that we “plan for the worst and pray for the best.”  You truly can’t put a price tag on protecting your loved ones in a worst-case scenario situation. 

Author: Attorney Kim Estess