Should I Try Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning?
US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning explains that the coronavirus pandemic has made many people face decisions about estate planning. Many will use a do-it-yourself solution. Internet DIY websites make it easy to download forms. Often, a do-it-yourself estate plan can be better than no plan at all. However, there are mistakes people make when they try do-it-yourself estate planning.
Here are some issues with do-it-yourself that estate planning attorneys regularly see:
Your will may not be valid if you engage in do-it-yourself planning. In Louisiana, there are two recognized forms for a Last Will and Testament. The first is a “statutory will”. A Statutory Will must be signed and dated before a notary public and two witnesses. It must also be signed on each and every page of the will, and it must have a special “attestation clause”. This is why some form cheap documents obtained online may not be effective in Louisiana. The second is an “olographic will”. An Olographic Will must be entirely written in the handwriting of the testator, and it must be signed and dated. Some people go through the extra step of getting witnesses, which is fine. Keep in mind that an Olographic Will must be proved in court, and so there is an extra affidavit that must be submitted in probate by two (2) persons attesting that the they recognize the handwriting on the Olographic Will and the handwriting is yours.
You don’t know the law. Some people draft last wills and testaments and include provisoins that are not allowed under Louisiana law and that are proscribed by the public policy of the state. Furter, some people draft last wills and testaments making huge asset protection mistakes and they often don’t appreciate the complexitities of planning for a blended family. If you don’t know the law, then your do-it-yourself plan might cause your property to go to someone you don’t want it to go to.
You need to know what to ask. If you’re trying to complete a specific form, you may be able to do it on your own. However, the challenge is sometimes not knowing what to ask. If you want a more comprehensive end-of-life plan and aren’t sure about what you need in addition to a will, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you want to cover everything, and are not sure what everything is, that’s why you see them.
More complex issues require professional help. Take a more holistic look at your estate plan and look at estate planning, tax planning and financial planning together, since they’re all interrelated. If you only look at one of these areas at a time, you may create complications in another. This could unintentionally increase your expenses or taxes. Your situation might also include special issues or circumstances. A do-it-yourself website might not be able to tell you how to account for your specific situation in the best possible way. It will just give you a blanket list, and it will all be cookie cutter. You won’t have the individual attention to your goals and priorities you get by sitting down and talking to an experienced estate planning attorney.
Estate laws vary from state to state. Every state may have different rules for estate planning, such as for powers of attorney or a health care proxy. There are also 17 states and the District of Columbia that tax your estate, inheritance, or both. These tax laws can impact your estate planning. Eleven states and DC only have an estate tax (CT, HI, IL, ME, MA, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA). Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax. Maryland has both an inheritance tax and an estate tax. Luckily, Louisiana has neither. But if you own property in a state that taxes inheritance, seek professional help.
Setting up health care directives and making end-of-life decisions can be very involved. It’s too important to try to do it yourself. If you make a mistake, it could impact the ability of your family to take care of financial expenses or manage health care issues. Don’t do it yourself.
Check out these other articles addressing estate planning: What Do I Need to Know about Second Marriage Estate Planning? and How Do I Avoid Estate Planning Mistake with a Blended Family?
Reference: US News & World Report (July 5, 2021) “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning”