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Why Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Is Not the Answer


As the deadline for filing income taxes fast approaches, people are forced to take stock of what they own, and perhaps start to ponder what to do with this property once they are gone. Proper estate planning takes careful consideration of one’s goals and legal options, which can only be fully understood under the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney. However, the ease and low cost of do-it-yourself estate planning kits available in office supply stores and online can make them attractive alternatives to the traditional approach of retaining an attorney. There is no denying these forms are simpler to complete and make the process of estate planning less expensive generally, but they lack crucial language that can endanger the validity and enforceability of these documents once admitted to probate and/or challenged in court. Further, these kits may not contain all of the documents necessary to fully address the needs and goals of the person establishing the plan, leaving him/her vulnerable to gaps that completely thwart his/her intentions or expose family to undue stress and expense later on. A discussion of the dangers involved with do-it-yourself estate planning, and the value experienced attorneys can offer above and beyond a rote, blank form, will follow below.

Risks of Do-It-Yourself Forms

Because do-it-yourself forms must work for as many people as possible, they are limited in what they include and all the nuances they can cover. For instance, some forms fail to account for what happens if a beneficiary predeceases the creator, which if unaddressed could result in property passing according to the rules of intestacy (they govern the distribution of property not otherwise transferred after death). Thus, property may end up in the hands of a distant relative or an in-law, effectively placing it outside the creator’s bloodline. Further, the transfer of homestead property after death is strictly regulated under Florida law, and many of these forms include complex planning options, such as bypass trusts and survivor trusts, that can contradict homestead laws, rendering any attempted transfers invalid. Finally, these do-it-yourself documents often fail to adequately explain the formal requirements to execute a valid will (witnesses, signatures, written) or the need to fund a trust before it becomes effective – either of which would nullify legal recognition of the document.

Benefits of an Estate Attorney

Only attorneys are authorized to give legal advice, and the websites and companies that offer do-it-yourself estate planning make specific disclaimers about not providing legal advice, meaning if the documents do not function as desired or lead to unintended result, these outfits can rarely be held responsible. Estate planning attorneys, on the other hand, are there specifically to give advice and find the right fit for a client’s needs. If advice is not part of the package, how can one know if his/her estate planning needs are being met? Designing an estate plan to avoid probate or limiting the possibility of litigation over a trust or will requires a skilled and detailed approach only an experienced lawyer can bring. Additionally, while using preprinted forms will save money in the short-term, if things go wrong, which is not uncommon, families can be ripped apart and a significant portion of the deceased’s estate spent on defending claims against it. Most importantly, though, an estate attorney will thoroughly understand the law and how it applies to a given situation, ensuring not only that the person seeking an estate plan does not run afoul of the rules, but also to fully take advantage of the laws so assets and interests are protected to the fullest extent.

Get Legal Advice

Estate planning is much more than filling out a shortsighted and incomplete form. Make sure you fully protect your legacy and your family’s future by working with William Rambaum, P.A. This Oldsmar law firm focuses on elder law issues, including estate planning, and can help you create the most advantageous arrangement. Contact the office to schedule an appointment.



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