The Hidden Risks of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning
With automation an artificial intelligence (AI) disrupting every sector of the economy, it is not surprising that the legal profession is feeling the impact as well. Today, there are many software programs, as well as websites, that sell do-it-yourself estate planning documents. These websites and form tools seem to offer a convenient and cost-effective alternative to consulting and hiring an estate planning attorney to prepare your estate plan. But, do they really meet your needs and protect your family? Is online, do-it-yourself estate planning worth the perceived upfront savings?
Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?
In all but the simplest scenarios, do-it-yourself estate planning is risky and can become a costly substitute for comprehensive in-person planning with a professional legal advisor. Typically, these online programs and services have significant limitations when it comes to gathering information needed to properly craft an estate plan. This can result in crucial defects that, sadly, won’t become apparent until the situation becomes a legal and financial nightmare for your loved ones.
Creating your own estate plan without professional advice can also have unintended consequences. Bad or thoughtless documents can be invalid and/or useless when they are needed. For example, you can create a plan that has no instructions for when a beneficiary passes away, or when a specific asset left to a loved one no longer exists. You may create a trust on your own, but fail to fund it, resulting in your assets being tied up in probate courts, potentially for years. Worse yet, what you leave behind may then pass to those you did not intend.
Your family situation and assets are unique. Plus, each state has its own laws governing what happens when someone becomes incapacitated or dies. These nuances may not be adequately addressed in an off-the-shelf document. In addition, non-traditional families, or those with a complicated family arrangement, require more thorough estate planning. The options available in a do-it-yourself system may not provide the solutions that are necessary. A computer program or website cannot replicate the intricate knowledge a qualified local estate planning attorney will have and use to apply to your particular circumstances.
If you’re a person of significant wealth, then concerns about income and estate taxes enter the picture, too. In addition to the federal estate tax, Maryland has a separate estate tax and inheritance tax systems with significantly different tax thresholds. An online estate planning website or program that prepares basic wills without taking into account the size of the estate can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased (and usually completely avoidable) tax liability. At McDonald Law Firm, we know how to structure your legal affairs to properly manage – or, in many cases, even avoid – the burden of the death tax as well as minimize the impact of ongoing income taxes.
One important aspect of estate planning is protecting adult children from the negative financial consequences of divorce, bankruptcy, lawsuits, or illness. An online planning tool may not take these additional steps into account when putting together what is usually a basic estate plan. Similarly, parents who have children or adult loved ones with special needs must take extra caution when planning. There are complicated rules regarding government benefits, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), that these loved ones may receive that must be considered, so that valuable benefits are not lost due to an inheritance.
Consult an Estate Planning Attorney
No matter how good a do-it-yourself estate planning document may seem, it is no substitute for personalized advice. Estate planning is more than just document production. In many cases, the right legal solution to your situation may not be addressed by these do-it-yourself products – affecting not just you, but generations to come. To make sure you are fully protecting and preserving your family’s legacy, contact Andre O. McDonald, a knowledgeable Howard County estate planning, special-needs planning, Medicaid/long-term care planning and business planning attorney at (443) 741-1088. We’re here to help.
DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION POSTED ON THIS BLOG IS INTENDED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO CONVEY LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE.