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Do-It-Yourself: the Estate Planning Disaster!

On Behalf of | Jan 29, 2016 | Elder Law, Estate Planning, Probate |

With today’s technology, consumers have plenty of resources to turn to when they think about their estate planning needs. On the internet and through self-help software or forms, many documents can prepared–everything from a Power of Attorney to a Living Trust or Will. But is doing it yourself really the way to go?

One way to answer this comes by asking why people take these short-cuts rather than going through an experienced estate planning attorney. In most, if not all instances, the reason given will be that “it costs less.” On its face, this probably appears true.

A person can go online and through various sites, prepare a Last Will and Testatment or other documents for a very inexpensive price. However, the price does not always equal the true expense! Saving some money to do it yourself may appear more economical but if you mess things up, the ultimate expense could far outweigh the initial price. 

Here’s a real life example–the names have been changed to protect the innocent! Bob moves in with his elderly mother and takes care of her for the last ten years of her life. Bob has two siblings who never call or come see mother and never assist in her care. In fact, they’ve abandoned her and mother is insistent that she does not want them to receive any portion of her estate.

In appreciation for Bob’s love and care, mother wants to leave her estate, which includes her house, to Bob rather than have it go to Bob and her other children. She tells Bob that she needs a Will and he agrees. Unfortunately, Bob feels mother can accomplish her objectives by having her use a form Will which Bob prints off the internet. Mother signs the Will, it is notarized, and all seems to be in order–until mother dies. 

Bob comes to me as a probate attorney and explains that his mother died but that she had a Will so everything should be “OK.” I review the Will and immediately see that it is defective–it has been signed and notarized but not witnessed by two witnesses. In Florida, the Will is unenforceable. This means that Bob’s mother died intestate, i.e. with no Will. As a result, Bob ends up being eligible for only one-third of the estate. Bob’s siblings, who cared little for mother, end up getting the other two-thirds. So Bob gets the short-end of the stick and mother’s wishes are not implemented. Everybody–except the good-for-nothing siblings–loses!

This example is just one of many that I and other probate attorneys can relate involving a situation where a person tries to “save a buck” and ends up spending more and not getting what they really wanted. Yes, there are plenty of resources online that may tell you how to do-it-yourself. This is as true with estate planning as it is with most other things. Just because you can read a website article, blog or watch a Youtube on how to do something does not mean it is smart to attempt it yourself. You may be able to read about or watch how to do an appendectomy but I wouldn’t recommend that you try it on yourself! The same is true with estate planning.


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