There’s no shortage of online do-it-yourself (DIY) tools that promise to help you create an “estate plan.” But while these tools can generate wills, trusts and other documents relatively cheaply, they can be risky except in the simplest cases. If your estate is modest in size, your assets are in your name alone, and you plan to leave them to your spouse or other closest surviving family member, then using an online service may be a cost-effective option. Anything more complex can expose you to a variety of costly pitfalls.
Your plan’s details count
Part of the problem is that online services can help you create individual documents — the good ones can even help you comply with applicable laws, such as ensuring the right number of witnesses to your will — but they can’t help you create an estate plan. Putting together a plan means determining your objectives and coordinating a collection of carefully drafted documents designed to achieve those objectives. And in most cases, that requires professional guidance.
For example, let’s suppose Ken’s estate consists of a home valued at $500,000 and a mutual fund with a $500,000 balance. He uses a DIY tool to create a will that leaves the home to his daughter and the mutual fund to his son. It seems like a fair arrangement. But suppose that by the time Ken dies, he’s sold the home and invested the proceeds in his mutual fund. Unless he amended his will, he will disinherit his daughter. An experienced estate planning advisor would have anticipated such contingencies and ensured that Ken’s plan treated both children fairly, regardless of the specific assets in his estate.
Professional experience vs. technical expertise
DIY tools also fall short when a decision demands a professional’s experience rather than mere technical expertise. An online service makes it easy to name a guardian for your minor children, for example, but it can’t help you evaluate the many characteristics and factors that go into selecting the best candidate.
We’d be pleased to help answer any of your estate planning questions and to help draft your documents.