Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do It Yourself Estate Planning Pitfalls

The pros and cons of DIY estate planning are discussed in yesterday's article in US New and World Report:
"Unless you are single and have absolutely no money," says Brooklyn-based estate planning and tax lawyer Hani Sarji, you need an estate planner, because people tend to make mistakes when they fill out their own forms online. "People might get a false sense of security from DIY estate planning," Sarji adds, and answering one question incorrectly or overlooking something such as appointing a guardian for children can lead to major problems down the road.

On her blog, estate planning lawyer Leanna Hamill writes about a colleague who had a client who used an online do-it-yourself will that he failed to update after some of his beneficiaries died and he opened new bank accounts that weren't mentioned on the form. "That is the reason to have an attorney assist you with this process. We know the questions to ask, and we know what to do with the answers," she writes.

"Without a lawyer, you might not understand the terms," says Deborah Jacobs, author of Estate Planning Smarts. Therefore, you could inadvertently give someone more power than you want to when creating a "durable power of attorney" document, for example. That document essentially gives someone else the power to take care of your finances if you become incapacitated. Jacobs says that if that person isn't trustworthy, he or she could steal from you. She also warns that if the document isn't executed properly—in some states you need witnesses to your signature—then it might not even be valid.

Another risk, says Jacobs, is that when it comes to transferring your money to family members after you pass away, a self-written will might contain holes that lead to errors.
As with other areas of the law, other lawyers, who don't practice estate planning law, have hired me to assist them with their estate plan; if they know they can't tackle an incorporation or an estate plan without some advice and counsel, do you believe you can do better?

No comments: