Lawrenceville Attorney Joel Beck Warns, Beware of DIY and Online Estate Planning Options

With today’s technology, access to information is literally in the palm of our hands. From your cell phone, you can download manuals to repair a washing machine that’s thirty years old or watch step-by-step video tutorials that will teach you how to do anything from knitting a sweater to playing an instrument without taking a single professional lesson.

However, just because you can do something yourself doesn’t always mean you should. Estate planning is an example of something that may seem easy to take care of by yourself or by using an online program, but in most cases, legal planning is one area where you should resist the urge to D-I-Y. Much like botching a DIY kitchen remodel, mistakes in legal planning can be expensive to fix. Ultimately, do-it-yourself legal planning could end up costing you or your family more than if you had just hired a professional from the start, and further, sometimes once the mistakes are discovered, it is too late to take corrective action. Below are a few reasons why.

Lack of Advice

An online service can’t provide you with personalized, professional legal advice on what’s best for your situation and based on your family’s unique needs. Sure, it can ask you a few questions and an algorithm can come up with some suggestions based on your responses, but it’s not going to be able to ask every question that needs to be asked or answer any questions that you may have. An experienced Lawrenceville estate planning attorney, however, can sit down and have a discussion with you about your family situation, your financial status, your short and long-term wishes, any conflicts that could arise from your choices and other important issues that need to be considered when drawing up your documents.

Addressing State Laws

Laws that govern estates and probate vary from state to state. These laws may even be different from federal laws, which also have to be accounted for in your planning. Online programs or “DIY planning kits” are not necessarily equipped to understand the nuances of such differences, or consequences that can arise when more than one state law needs to be addressed in your planning (you are a snowbird, you own a vacation property, etc.). Another issue is taxes: some states have their own estate or “death” taxes, where rates may differ from what’s required on the federal level. As such, any decisions you make in your planning could have expensive repercussions because the DIY program does not offer counseling and guidance when addressing such state-specific issues.

The Mistakes May Be Revealed Too Late

This one’s important, and potentially very costly. Sometimes, the D-I-Y approach may be very problematic. Consider a situation where you have completed estate planning documents online, or using a fill-in-the-blank form purchased at a store. You followed the instructions and did the best you can, believing that the documents have been prepared properly, are right for your situation, and you’ve got a solid plan in place; however, the documents are not completed properly for your situation, or perhaps don’t comply with Georgia law and have zero effect. When there is a need to use your documents (Will, power of attorney, healthcare directive, etc.), it may be too late. For example, if you are alive but have lost your capacity to make decisions for yourself, your family will likely be forced to initiate a conservatorship case for you in probate court because your power of attorney was not properly completed. That’s going to take time and be costly. Or, as another example, suppose you pass away believing your Will is valid, but it is not. As a result, you are considered to have died intestate, meaning you died without a Will. Your wishes are not going to be followed. Instead, Georgia’s laws of intestacy will determine how your assets are distributed. As you can see, these unknown mistakes can be very costly both in terms of financial costs, and in terms of your having your wishes followed.

Being Your Voice

When you hire a Lawrenceville estate planning attorney, you’ll get the personal service that a website cannot offer. We’re not going to just sit behind a desk and plug in names and dollar amounts as if it’s a game of legal Mad Libs. Instead, your attorney will help you explore your options and discuss your wishes thoroughly. Although the issues can be complicated, your attorney will be by your side to ensure the best outcome.

Even if you think your personal situation is simple enough that documents such as a will or trust can be done using a form or template on a website, at least look into an appointment with a local attorney. There’s a good chance that it will be less expensive than you thought, and even if not, the cost of a well-written plan designed for your situation is indeed a worthwhile investment to ensure your family is protected and you have peace of mind. With that said, if you’d like to meet with our Lawrenceville estate planning attorneys to discuss your options, contact us to discuss your situation today.

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