Sometimes it feels good to get things done by yourself, without having to hire an expert to come in and do it for you. Depending on who you are, this can work great for some home projects, simple automotive fixes, or odds and ends around the house, but it is a risky thing to do in estate planning.
Companies such as LegalZoom and Nolo Press advertise taking a DIY approach to wills and trusts. While these may save money, they are also likely to be substandard in quality and thoroughness. According to American Bar Association, which recently examined several such services in depth, taking the DIY approach to estate planning could end up costing a family more money than if they had hired a professional to start with.
One particular danger of using these services is ambiguous language may be left in a will, giving rise to confusion and eventually family disagreements. It is essential to write a will with clear and precise language. The same goes for trusts. The language left in one’s estate planning documents is what you are leaving behind, and it is essential to work everything carefully so no legal confusion remains.
Another danger of DIU estate planning is that it may leave out considerations of prudence. For example, who is the best person to select as trustee, as guardian, as power of attorney, and so on? These matters are best determined by speaking with an experienced attorney who has seen these things in action and who personally knows your particular situation.
The bottom line is that those who take a DIY approach to estate planning may end up with a plan that is incomplete, fails to take advantage of specialized tools and techniques, and which generally fails to accomplish their estate planning goals. If you plan on taking the DIY approach, you should definitely think twice about doing so.
Source: Forbes, “Is Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning a Valid Option?,” Bernard A. Krooks, May 17, 2012.