7 Mistakes Made By Do-It-Yourself Estate Planners Without Even Realizing It

On behalf of Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.

I love sports talk radio.  It’s what I primarily listen to in the car when driving to and from appointments.  Commercials on sports talk radio are interesting because they often the do-it-yourselfer on all sorts issues ranging from car parts to nursing home providers.  These ads appeal to those who want to try and fix the problem on their own.  Legal services are no exception and so I hear numerous ads for self-help legal solutions, especially popular web based legal solution websites. 

The problem with trusting these services too much is that may lead to costly mistakes for the consumer with no recourse against the legal service provider.  Or put another way, imagine if you decided to be your own doctor after looking up symptoms of your illness on WebMd.  

Here is a list of common mistakes that do-it-yourself estate planners may run into without even realizing it:

  1.  Improper execution.  It can’t be that hard to sign a Will, right?  Wrong.  The law is very concerned with authenticating the wishes of the person who made the Will.  In the formal sense this means having the right number of legitimate witnesses.  A simple mistake in signing and attesting a Will can lead a very nasty and expensive legal battle for your loved ones later on.

  2. Confusion of documents.  A Living Will, a Last Will and Testament, and a Power of Attorney for Health Care are three important documents for an individual; but they are often confused with one another as well.  I have had multiple people in my office confidently state that they had a Will in place and then hand me a Living Will.  They also think that a Living Will may adequately replace a Power of Attorney for Health Care.  Fortunately I was able to get this problem corrected for the people in my office, but the do-it-yourselfer may have to learn the hard way the gaps such assumptions can create in an estate plan.

  3. Choosing the wrong strategy.  There are any number of ways to set up an estate plan.  The various strategies can lead to a number of costs and benefits to the client.  Your estate planning attorney is more than just a drafter of documents, but rather a guide through the constantly changing landscape of the law and society.  So while these legal service companies can provide good information about Wills and Trusts, they will not offer you a sound opinion based on your situation.  Instead it’s up to the client to guess what’s right.

  4. Forgetting Ancillary Documents.  The classic question people think about with estate planning is the debate between using a Will or a Trust.  It’s a good debate to think about, but the decisions made around your Power of Attorney documents may even be more important.  Other documents, often thought of as ancillary or secondary, such as a Martial Property Agreement or HIPAA release waiver, may be essential in a crisis but overlooked by the amateur planner.

  5. Not following through on the plan.  Most do-it-yourself legal services assist with the drafting of the documents, but leave it to the client to perform the follow through.  Yet is it the follow through that is the most critical set in the process.  Performing tasks such as funding a trust, providing agents a copy and explanation of your Powers of Attorney, and keeping essential documents in a safe location are essential to ensure that your wishes are carried out in an emergency. 

  6. Not reviewing beneficiary statuses.  A good estate plan is about more than just drafting a few documents.  Rather, it is about reviewing the status of all of your assets, including property that can be passed by a beneficiary status.  Who is the P.O.D. on your bank accounts?  On your investment accounts?  On your life insurance?  An estate planner will ask you these questions and assist you in ensuring that these accounts have the right person in place to be the beneficiary of your property.

  7. Failing to review the plan.  Life is change.  Friends and family members move away.  You may lose contact with a trusted friend.  Family members die.  Marriages end.  Laws change to suit the mood of the politicians in power.  Relying on a document drafted in a different time may or not be an effective strategy for your current goals and plans.  A regular review of your estate plan by someone who understands the current state of the law and your goals is critical.  The problem is it’s easy to forget to review or not adequately keep up with the state of the laws. 

Don’t go it on your own!  The estate planning team at Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C. is here to help guide you through the complex intersections of life and the law.  Call today to schedule a free consultation to look at your estate planning needs and devise strategies to accomplish your family and business goals.