5 Reasons Why DIY Estate Planning Can Do More Harm Than Good

If you’re considering a do-it-yourself estate plan, you’ve already taken an important step: proactively seeking to help your loved ones avoid hardships upon your incapacity or death. Establishing an estate plan is essential in helping your family and friends avoid disputes over your care and assets, higher estate taxes, a difficult court process, and more. 

Woman estate planning on a laptop

You may have utilized estate planning software, conducted research, or created your own estate planning checklist. However, without the guidance of an estate planning attorney, your efforts may be wasted. Planning for your estate may be more complex than you realize, and small mistakes can have large consequences. Let’s take a look at some of the common pitfalls you may encounter in DIY estate planning.

1. You may not realize your plan is incomplete. 

Estate planning documents are complex. Documents like wills and revocable living trusts take a significant amount of time to complete correctly, and it may not be clear when an estate planning document is complete or if a particular document has been properly executed, giving you a false sense of security. Additionally, you need to make sure your assets are actually funded or tied into your estate plan

2. Small mistakes might go unnoticed. 

Small changes in wording could have a massive impact for your family in the future. These errors can get lost in the estate planning document and may not be detected until it’s too late, leaving your family to deal with the fallout. For example, you could inadvertently disinherit a child or name the wrong person to settle your estate.

3. Online services aren’t state specific. 

Estate planning software is designed for a broad audience. However, each state has its own estate planning intricacies. For example, Minnesota law sets forth what should be included in a Healthcare Directive and statutory power of attorney. Using a general template for your estate plan could lead you to miss critical details and cause issues for your family down the road.

4. Online services aren’t customizable. 

Estate planning websites may not be customizable to your unique circumstances since they aim to appeal to a wide audience. One size simply doesn’t fit all. Your estate plan needs to be created to reflect your situation, goals, and concerns. Online services are only as good as the information entered, and there may not be options to create a full picture of your situation.

5. You get what you pay for. 

Online estate planning services are enticing largely because of their low prices. It can be tempting to get a cheap and easy will or revocable living trust, but in most cases you’ll get exactly what you pay for. Your plan may be incomplete, and you won’t have the support of trained estate planning attorneys when you get stuck. Estate plans are an investment in your family’s future security, not an area to cut costs. Doing your own planning may even cost your loved ones more money than meeting with an estate planning attorney.

Avoid an Accidental Disinheritance

At Mullen & Guttman, we’ve encountered a variety of faulty plans that were a result of do-it-yourself estate planning.

Here’s an example of a small mistake that would have caused major issues had it slipped through the cracks.

A number of years ago, our firm met with a gentleman to review his estate plan. The man had two biological and two step-children he had raised from an early age and treated the same. Prior to meeting with Mullen & Guttman, this man created his will using an online estate planning software. He had intended for his assets to be split equally among all four children.

Unfortunately, the estate planning tool he used employed language that passed his assets down ONLY to his biological descendants, disinheriting his other two children. During his meeting with our firm, this oversight was caught immediately, and a new estate plan was drafted to pass his assets to all four children.

Avoid Unfixable Issues

Sometimes, do-it-yourself estate plans go wrong, and there’s no way to fix them. Here’s an example.

A client came to see us after her mom died suddenly at a relatively early age. The mom had done her plan with an online estate planning tool. She had a fallout with her oldest child, and attempted to disinherit this child from her will. However, she did not realize that the will would not control assets that passed by beneficiary designation. In fact, the mom’s largest asset was a life insurance policy, which she wanted to go to her youngest child.

Without the guidance of an estate planning attorney, she failed to update the beneficiaries on the life insurance policy, and the policy was split between the oldest and youngest child equally. Although her goal was to have all assets go to her youngest child, the oldest child ended up receiving a significant inheritance.

How the Estate Planning Attorneys at Mullen & Guttman Can Help

While helping hundreds of Minnesota families address their estate planning goals and concerns, the lawyers at Mullen & Guttman have encountered a myriad of DIY estate planning errors. Fortunately, most of these errors can be corrected with an updated estate plan prepared by an experienced estate planning lawyer.

Whether or not you’ve started creating your own estate plan, we can help you ensure that you’re effectively protecting yourself and your family. Schedule a free consultation today.