With today’s technology, access to information is literally in the palm of our hands. From your cell phone, you can download manuals to repair a washing machine that’s thirty years old or watch step-by-step video tutorials that will teach you how to do anything from knitting a sweater to playing an instrument without taking a single professional lesson.
However, just because you can do something yourself doesn’t always mean you should. Estate planning and long-term care planning are examples of things that may seem easy to take care of by yourself or by using an online program, but in most cases, legal planning is one area where you should resist the urge to D-I-Y. Much like botching a DIY kitchen remodel, mistakes in legal planning can be expensive to fix. Ultimately, do-it-yourself legal planning could end up costing you or your family more than if you had just hired a professional from the start. Below are a few reasons why.
Lack of Advice
An online service can’t provide you with personalized, professional legal advice on what’s best for your situation and based on your family’s unique needs. Sure, it can ask you a few questions and an algorithm can come up with some suggestions based on your responses, but it’s not going to be able to ask every question that needs to be asked or answer any questions that you may have. An experienced, or Certified Elder Law and Estate planning attorney, however, can sit down and have a discussion with you about your family situation, your financial status, your short and long-term wishes, any conflicts that could arise from your decisions (e.g. why a child with special needs could become ineligible for Medicaid and SSI benefits if you leave him or her an inheritance the wrong way, or how certain choices could land your family in court) and other important issues that need to be considered when drawing up your documents.
Addressing State Laws
Laws that govern estates and probate vary from state to state. These laws may even be different from federal laws, which also have to be accounted for in your planning. Online programs or “DIY planning kits” are not equipped to understand the nuances of such differences, or consequences that can arise when more than one state law needs to be addressed in your planning (you are a snowbird, you own a vacation property, you need to access specific benefits to pay for long-term care, etc.). Another issue is taxes: some states have their own estate or “death” taxes, where rates may differ from what’s required on the federal level. As such, any decisions you make in your planning could have expensive repercussions because the DIY program does not offer counseling and guidance when addressing such state-specific issues.
Being Your Voice
When you hire an estate planning attorney, you’ll get the personal service that a website cannot offer. They’re not going to just sit behind a desk and plug in names and dollar amounts as if it’s a game of legal Mad Libs. Instead, your attorney will help you explore your options and discuss your wishes thoroughly. Likewise, some elements of estate or elder law planning require court involvement, such as petitioning for a Guardianship/Conservatorship for a loved one. These proceedings can be complicated and once again, your attorney will be by your side to ensure the best outcome. Even if you think your personal situation is simple enough that documents such as a will or trust can be done using a form or template on a website, at least look into an appointment with a local attorney. There’s a good chance that it will be less expensive than you thought. With that said, if you’d like to meet with our Mars area estate planning attorneys to discuss your options, simply call to schedule an appointment.