Pitfalls of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

When it comes to the management and distribution of your estate, do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions can be tempting. With the internet brimming with cookie-cutter forms and how-to guides, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that estate planning is just another task you can handle on your own. However, at Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., where our experienced attorneys serve clients throughout Southeastern Massachusetts, we know that a one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning often leads to serious problems.

The Purposes of an Estate Plan

At its core, an estate plan is designed to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes upon your passing while minimizing legal hurdles and taxes. But it’s more than just a will; it encompasses advance directives, powers of attorney, trusts, and guardianship designations. A well-crafted estate plan protects your family’s future, provides for dependents, and can even detail your wishes regarding medical treatment if you become incapacitated.

What a Capable Estate Planning Attorney Provides That DIY Forms Do Not

Just as you seek out professionals for other specialized services (e.g. accounting, bricklaying, surgery) it is essential to select a credentialed, well-respected estate planning attorney before undertaking an estate plan. Following are a number of convincing reasons you need an experienced professional at the helm:

1. We Will Customize a Plan That Fits Your Unique Circumstances

Different family dynamics, asset types, and future goals make having a skilled estate planning attorney essential. For example, families with special needs children require a specific trust to ensure that those children remain eligible for government benefits. Because we are not robots, we are able to customize your plan so that it is not only effective but will not inadvertently disinherit loved ones or create unnecessary tax burdens.

2. We Have Up-to-Date Legal Knowledge

Laws governing estates and trusts are continually evolving, with variations from state to state. What’s legal and advantageous in one jurisdiction may be invalid in another. Our lawyers are not just familiar with current estate planning and tax laws; we understand how these laws apply to your specific situation. This ensures that your estate plan is both compliant with current legal standards and safeguards your assets from future legal challenges.

3. We Will Plan Strategically to Avoid Probate

A competent estate planning attorney provides strategies to avoid the probate process, which is public and can be time-consuming and costly. Proper use of trusts can ensure that your assets will pass directly to your beneficiaries without the need for court intervention. DIY planning tools often overlook these strategies, leaving your family entangled in unnecessary, stressful legal processes.

Self-Serve Estate Planning Can Put Your Assets and Your Family at Risk

Invalid Documents and Legal Challenges

When you are inexperienced and working without the net of an attorney, it is far too easy to 

  • Execute documents improperly, for example, having a family member be a witness, not getting it notarized or filed
  • Misunderstand state laws, Laws vary from state to state to state and can change from year to year
  • Fail to update estate plans, the need to update estate plans with birth, deaths, divorce, adding new properties, substantiation windfalls from inheritances, etc. 

Mistakes can lead to documents being challenged or deemed invalid. The ensuing uncertainty and confusion may provoke family disputes, drain estate assets through litigation, and delay the distribution of your estate.

Overlooked Assets and Unintended Consequences

DIY estate planners often miss subtleties, such as the importance of beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and insurance policies, which supersede wills and trusts. Errors can lead to assets being distributed to unintended beneficiaries. Similarly, without proper guidance, DIY planners can inadvertently create tax liabilities for their heirs or fail to protect their assets from creditors, ex-spouses or scam artists.

Don’t let DIY Estate Planning Compromise Your Family’s Security

While the DIY route may seem cost-effective and convenient, the reality is that estate planning is a complex field requiring professional expertise. At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we realize that your estate plan is a critical component of your family’s future well-being. By entrusting your estate planning to experienced professionals, you can ensure that your plan is legally sound, tailored to your needs, and crafted to protect your loved ones for years to come. Contact our team today.