The Internet and the availability of standard online forms has led to a do-it-yourself approach to estate plans. Just as you shouldn’t self diagnose health issues online, you shouldn’t address important legal matters online either. Before you start scouring the Internet for templates, here are a few dangers of DIY estate plans to keep in mind.
There Is No Standard Template
The first thing you should know is, there’s no such thing as a standard template that works for everyone! As you can imagine, an estate plan for a married person or someone with children might look different from that of a single person. Furthermore, someone who owns investment properties or a small business would need a different estate plan than someone who only owns a personal home used as a primary residence. No single estate plan template can possibly cover all possible scenarios. Anything promoted online as a standard template will likely lack the full scope of terms needed for your specific circumstances.
Legal Forms Must Be State Specific
Another important consideration are state laws. This is why attorneys are licensed in specific states and why estate plans prepared in one state must be updated when you move to another state. Websites that offer state-specific templates give you the false impression that their forms comply with all state laws. The fact is, although they may have swapped out certain terms in the forms, without the advice and counsel of a Massachusetts estate planning attorney, your estate plan may be missing key components.
Missing Important Clauses
Missing clauses is one of the biggest dangers of DIY estate plans. Unless you’re an attorney, you may not even know that you need something or that it’s missing in the first place. The issue may not be apparent until you become deceased, at which point your beneficiaries will be left with costly issues that threaten their inheritance.
One of the most common issues with poor estate planning is missing assets. There’s a famous case in Florida, Aldrich v. Basile. The decedent used an online estate plan template. She listed all of her current assets but left out reference to the inheritance received from her sister, who died before her. As a result, unintended heirs (her nieces) were able to successfully claim rights to that asset. Had an attorney assisted with her estate plan, her assets would have been fully protected and passed to her brother, as she intended.
Other Dangers of DIY Estate Plans
The fact is, in an attempt to save a little money by purchasing a cheap estate plan template online, you could cost your estate and your heirs a lot more money. Online templates may not contain the right terms for your specific needs or per state laws. It may leave out important clauses designed to protect all of your assets beyond those specifically listed. You may also make mistakes in the signing and execution of documents, making them difficult to enforce. These can all lead to costly court battles and untended heirs. Don’t risk something as important and legally complex as an estate plan. Consult with a Massachusetts Estate Planning attorney to prepare a plan that meets your specific needs and that protects the rights of you and your heirs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.