This post is Part One in a four-part series discussing a variety of ways an estate plan can be challenged. You can find links to the other posts in the series here.
Can I make a "Do It Yourself" estate plan?
The phrase "Do It Yourself" calls to mind weekend trips to Home Depot and saving money. And while some aspects of home improvement may be proper to do yourself (e.g., painting walls or building a patio), things get trickier when you try to act as a plumber, excavator, or electrician. Performing those tasks incorrectly — resulting in broken gas mains or electrical shocks — could have disastrous consequences.
(Forbes has published several famous do-it-yourself estate planning horror stories)
The same is true of "Do It Yourself" (or "DIY") estate planning. Although do-it-yourself estate planning services may seem like a bargain, just remember: you get what you pay for. In many cases, these services merely provide generic forms that do not take into account your financial situation, family relationships, tax consequences, and other important factors. More than all of those things, however, the number one argument against using a do-it-yourself estate planning service is this: the documents may not comply with the legal requirements in your state.
Formalities can make or break your estate plan.
Every type of estate planning document — a last will and testament, living trust, power of attorney, etc. — has certain statutory requirements or "formalities" that must be adhered to in order for the document to be valid. Consider Oklahoma: Title 84 of the Oklahoma Statutes prescribes requirements for wills; Title 60 covers trusts; Title 58 covers powers of attorney; and laws governing the disposition of certain property interests are covered in Titles 15, 16, 54, and elsewhere. And that's just starters: you will also need to comply with a host of complex federal laws for special needs trusts, healthcare planning, and other documents.
One way someone can challenge your estate plan is by claiming that it failed to comply with statutory formalities. Were the witnesses or notary related to you? Does the document omit certain required language or "magic words"? Is your signature not in the proper place on the document? Without these formalities, your estate plan may not be recognized by the court and your beneficiaries may not get what you want to leave them. Worse yet: the mistakes or problems associated with these documents are often not realized until it's too late (e.g., when you are admitting a will to probate, using a power of attorney, or filing estate taxes). At that point, your family could end up spending many times what you "saved" in legal fees by drafting your own estate planning documents.
(AARP lists DIY estate planning as the #1 "Costly Estate Planning Blunder")
Do-it-yourself estate planning services will not help you answer the questions mentioned above and will not ensure all the formalities have been satisfied. In fact, these services provide repeated disclaimers that they cannot and do not offer legal advice and that you are accepting the risk of failure by using their service. With something as important as your estate plan — and the financial well-being of your loved ones — is that really a risk you want to take?
Don't Be an Estate Planning Horror Story
An attorney is pivotal in the estate planning process, as he or she can develop effective, valid documents that accomplish your goals. Don't leave things to chance with a "Do It Yourself" estate plan. To ensure your estate plan is prepared and executed properly, contact the qualified Oklahoma City estate planning attorneys at Postic & Bates today for a free, no-obligation consultation appointment.
[As with all our posts, the contents of this article do not constitute legal advice and are subject to our site-wide disclaimer.]