It sounds easy and promises “legal” results. It’s less expensive than working with an attorney. But estate planning is a serious process and if done incorrectly may have unexpected and expensive results. Let’s look at five reasons why you should give those online forms or that estate planning kit a pass and consult a Virginia attorney who specializes in estate planning.
Most DIY solutions don’t contain many options. It’s a fill-in-the-blank exercise and doesn’t address your specific or unique estate planning needs. Your life doesn’t necessarily fit neatly in a box, so why would you expect your estate to? The needs of a single parent are much different from the needs of a large blended family, or even an older couple with grown children and grandchildren. One size doesn’t fit all… it usually fits no one.
An estate planning attorney has a legal education and continuing education courses, as well as years of experience working with different kinds of clients with many different needs and wishes. An online question and answer form can’t answer a client’s questions or impart legal information or advice. It is not individualized and treats your needs and wishes exactly the same as everyone else who uses the program. Obviously, this is no substitute for the expertise of a knowledgeable attorney who will ask the right questions and create an estate plan for your unique situation. Remember, the unintended mistakes made today, will likely impact your children and grandchildren in the future.
An estate plan is not just a will. A properly created estate plan not only specifies what happens to your assets when you die, it also plans for what happens if you become incapacitated and can no longer take care of yourself or your finances. It should include a power of attorney and an advance medical directive that appoints someone to act on your behalf if/when you can’t act for yourself. It may also include a trust or trusts to pass assets while avoiding probate or to take care of a person with special needs.
An estate plan will also identify and address contingencies. What should happen if a child predeceases you or you have a child after your will is drafted? How should your assets be divided if you divorce or remarry? A simple will may be a start, but it is not an estate plan. A DIY solution may not cover these items and leave you with an incomplete plan that does not carry out your final wishes.
Estate planning is rarely black and white. There are many gray areas that are important. A DIY program may not take some of these into account. If you’re “filling in the blanks,” or even skipping a question or part of the form you don’t feel is relevant, you may not know what you’re missing. Even mistakes in legal language can be costly. Estate law is governed by the state where the person resides when he/she dies, and individual state laws vary greatly on estate issues. The Commonwealth of Virginia has very specific requirements on how to execute estate planning documents, including who must witness these documents and rules surrounding a self-proving affidavit. A small oversight now could cause huge, and often expensive problems for your loved ones later. Failure to follow statutory formalities for execution may invalidate the entire will.
Some assets pass to your loved one through your will or trust, while other assets pass by law through specific beneficiary designations. Items like savings bonds, certificates of deposits (CDs), life insurance, retirement accounts, and certain types of bank accounts can be designated to automatically pay at death. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney will review all your assets and advise you on how to pass each most easily and inexpensively to the beneficiary. Properly drafted estate planning documents take both types of assets into consideration to ensure that your estate plan follows your wishes.
Drafting your own estate planning documents through a do-it-yourself program,may be a risky endeavor. Though certainly less expensive, a DIY solution takes the most important element out of the process: the knowledge and advice of an experienced estate planning attorney with specialized education and legal training.
Melone Hatley is a general practice law firm and serves Virginia Beach and the Northern Virginia area. Our practice areas include Family Law, Divorce and Special Needs Children, Traffic Ticket Defense, DUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service. Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.
We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives. For more information about estate planning, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 in Northern Virginia or 757.296.0580 in Virginia Beach, or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.