We often pride ourselves on being self-sufficient. Do-it-yourself projects abound, from painting the living room to building a deck. People choose projects for reasons ranging from the pleasure of doing something themselves to saving money. But some DIY projects may cost the consumer more in the long run. Take estate planning, for example. Websites that offer forms for common legal documents seem like a bargain, but DIY estate planning can’t offer four important services.
An experienced estate planning attorney will analyze a client’s information to come up with the best solutions for the client’s circumstances.
For example, a 46 year old woman with two children, a real estate business, and a prized Pomeranian starts thinking about estate planning. A lawyer might advise she establish trusts for her children and her pet, then suggest a business succession plan. It’s also not too early to start looking at long-term care planning. She might even get tips on saving for her children’s college educations and how her estate plans might change if she remarries. She needs an attorney, not an algorithm.
Estate planning is not one-size-fits-all. What works for one client may be a real problem for another. DIY estate planning websites must be somewhat standardized. These sites cannot look you in the eye and get a real feel for your lifestyle and goals.
For example, an attorney might meet with two separate clients about their estate planning. The first client needs a simple Will, along with a durable power of attorney and medical health care power of attorney. The second client has a slightly larger estate, but also appears to need a relatively simple estate plan. However, the attorney notices hesitation when the client talks about leaving money to her daughter. Upon further discussion, the attorney realizes the client may need a spendthrift or discretionary trust to protect the daughter’s inheritance.
People with high net worth estates or complicated family structures need the personal advice of a flesh-and-blood attorney. Advanced estate planning would be difficult to do over the Internet.
An example of advanced estate planning might be a client with a blended family, a business, and a high net worth estate. The blended family includes children ranging from age 3 to age 22. The client wants to make sure his children receive their inheritance, without leaving his current spouse impoverished. There are estate planning strategies that will help this client, but he won’t find comprehensive information or their consequences on a website.
An estate planning attorney needs to know the big picture. When a client visits, they ask questions about their family, their assets, and their goals. They then use that information to decide which estate planning tools are right for the job.
In the example stated in question 3 above, the client and his second wife each have children from other relationships and one child together. Their attorney will need to understand how family structure affects the client’s estate plans. Will he leave everything equally to all children? Does the client want to set up a dynasty trust to save on taxes and spread the wealth to grandchildren and beyond? After learning the details about the family, the attorney will know the answers to these questions and plan accordingly.
Will you get the returns you need from an estate planning website? Your estate planning attorney may be able to provide a lifetime of guidance.