6 Reasons Not to ‘DIY’ Your Estate Plans

estate planning notebookDo-It-Yourself (DIY) estate planning is often the first considered option for those looking to save money. However, because of the complexity of estate planning laws, DIY-ing your Will, trust, or other estate planning documents without the help of an attorney is a risky endeavor.

Below are just a few of the many reasons why estate planning is best done in collaboration with an experienced legal professional.

1. Creating valid Trusts, Wills, and other documents is difficult.

Proper estate planning often requires the drafting of several documents detailing the handling of your assets not only if you die but, also, if you become too incapacitated to manage those matters on your own.  For most people, their first thought is that they only need a Will; however, there are many excellent tools beyond (and better than) using a Will which can serve to protect you and protect your loved ones if you are incapacitated or die.

In addition, as you acquire new and different assets, or the value of your assets increases, it is critical to ensure that you understand the pros and cons of the kind of estate planning document to use in order to leave these to any beneficiaries.  It is also important to understand what happens if your assets are inherited by someone who is still a minor child (under age 18) or a person with special needs.  To ensure your wishes are carried out properly (and, where possible, with the least tax and administrative burdens for your loved ones), it is best to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine what type of planning is best suited to accomplish your goals and to update that plan periodically (at least every five years in some cases).

Many individuals opt to prepare something called a Revocable (Living) Trust as part of their estate plan. Trusts can eliminate the administrative and financial burdens that normally happen with using a Will alone, by removing the need for court supervision and filings as part of what is commonly referred to as “probate.”  Trusts also allow you to control from the grave the timing of when your assets get distributed, such as providing for an installment-like plan for younger children that staggers what they receive from the Trust to various ages and ensures that they are more mature and better able to handle what you leave to them.

Both Wills and Trusts are highly technical documents and must adhere to ever-changing statutory requirements to be considered valid. Enlisting the help of a professional to draft both documents will ensure your loved ones have no issues administering your estate after your death.

2. You may not fulfill signature requirements.

In Virginia, a valid Will must be signed by the testator — the person who created the Will —  and at least two competent adult witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the estate. Your Will is invalid if:

  • The witnesses don’t sign the Will in the presence of the testator.
  • One or both witnesses are your beneficiaries.

To avoid making these mistakes, notarize your Will with a notary public and two witnesses not related to you by blood or marriage, which is often handled most effectively with an experienced estate planning attorney.

3. You may not know how to set up the proper funding for your trust(s).

If you’re interested in drafting a revocable living trust, you need to do more than sign the trust document.  You need to “fund” your trust and designate it as a beneficiary on certain assets, so that those will pass through your trust (not probate).  If your trust is not funded correctly, your beneficiaries may have to go through probate court, and incur probate taxes, to receive their inheritance.

4. Generic DIY forms may not adhere to state-specific laws.

One of the most challenging aspects of estate planning is accounting for state-specific requirements the probate court must abide by. State regulations are particularly stringent regarding property — domestic or international — and business assets.

Virginia has specific laws regarding estate planning that a DIY tool’s generic form does not always account for. Enlisting the help of an experienced estate attorney ensures your estate adheres to the nuances of your local estate regulations.

5. You may not know all of your available estate planning options without an expert’s insight.

Because every estate is unique, you should hire an experienced professional to create a valid and viable plan that suits your circumstances. For example, an attorney may suggest using alternative probate avoidance tools you may not realize exist, which might still avoid probate even if you don’t have the attorney prepare a Revocable (Living) Trust.  This includes using beneficiary designations and a revocable transfer on death deed. Whatever your specific situation entails, you want to use an estate planning strategy that is unique to your needs. DIY forms are often too generic for that purpose.

6. You don’t have an objective third party to help you make the best decisions for your estate.

DIY estate planning tools may give you a foundation for creating your estate documents, but they cannot account for your specific needs. For example, you could forget to list certain assets or fail to incorporate particular stipulations in your trust directives.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help tailor your estate plan to your specifications. They can also review your assets to accurately document and account for every detail, and help you eliminate any “blind spots” and biases you may have as you’re considering how to divide up your assets.

Get help with your estate plan

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure your legacy is passed on precisely as you want. The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, PLLC, has more than 20 years of experience serving the needs of Virginia families. Contact us today or book a free consultation for help with creating or updating your estate plans.