Studies that are conducted consistently show that most adults in America do not have estate plans in place. Many of them have moments when they realize they should take action, and this can be triggered by hearing the news about someone passing away unexpectedly. If you are in this position, and you conduct a quick search, you will invariably come across ads for companies that sell do-it-yourself estate planning documents.
This can seem like the ideal solution. You may see estate planning as a hassle, and there are those that do not want to share personal details with an attorney that they have just met. Of course, there can also be financial concerns, and these reasons are valid on some level. However, at the end of the day, you should think long and hard before you resolve to plan your own estate.
It can seem as though filling in the blanks on a boilerplate last will document should not be that difficult. When you get these downloads, they come with some instructions with regard to the required witnessing and notarization, so it would be disingenuous to suggest that the average person cannot create such a document.
This being stated, there are degrees of competence when you talk about any action that is usually reserved for professionals. The highly respected magazine and website Consumer Reports had questions about the overall efficacy of do-it-yourself estate planning. They decided to devote some resources to find definitive answers that they could share with their readers.
They got three of their staffers to obtain downloads and worksheets from a trio of the leading online purveyors of do-it-yourself legal documents. These people followed the instructions and they created last wills using a predetermined set of hypothetical circumstances that were not especially complicated.
The publication enlisted the services of three highly regarded law school professors with a great deal of experience in the estate planning niche. They closely examined the documents, and they formed distinct impressions. These attorneys stated that the utilization of these tools by laypeople could ultimately yield unintended negative consequences.
At the end of the process, the people at Consumer Reports came to a firm conclusion. They recommended against do-it-yourself estate planning unless the situation is extremely simple, like leaving an entire estate of relatively modest value to your spouse.
In addition to the fact that a last will may not be properly created by an inexperienced person that is using one of these boilerplate documents, there are other considerations. The first one is quite simple: Are you sure that a last will is the right asset transfer vehicle to utilize?
There are a number of different trusts that can be a better choice depending on the circumstances. One very common reason for using a trust instead of a last will is to avoid probate. When a will is used, it must be admitted to probate.
The heirs do not receive their inheritances for about eight months to a year while the court is probating the estate. There are also considerable expenses that accumulate during probate, and anyone that has an interest can access probate records to find out how the assets were distributed.
To avoid probate and take advantage of some other benefits, you could use a revocable living trust instead of a last will to state your final wishes. You would be able to serve as the beneficiary and the trustee while you are living, so you would not surrender control.
A successor trustee that you name in the trust agreement would be able to distribute assets to the successor beneficiaries after you are gone outside of probate. You would have the ability to dictate exactly how you want the assets to be passed along. For example, you could allow for limited distributions over an extended period of time to prolong the viability of the living trust.
Download Our Free Estate Planning Worksheet!
Our attorneys have devised a worksheet that you can use to obtain valuable insight that can help you craft your legacy in the ideal manner. It is being offered free of charge at the present time, and you can visit our worksheet download page to gain access to your copy.