The Dangers of DIY Estate Planning
Every document in an estate plan is a critical part of protecting your family, yourself, and your assets, both during your life and after your death. Just as you would never consider performing surgery on yourself or a loved one, you should never take the do-it-yourself approach to creating an estate plan. The dangers of DIY estate planning are significant. The outcome of making an estate plan without assistance from a knowledgeable lawyer can be disastrous. Here’s a summary of the primary risks.
Your DIY Estate Planning Documents May Not Be Legally Valid in Maryland
Complex Maryland laws apply to each estate planning document. If you use a form or online service to create an estate plan, your documents may not be legally valid in the state. Unfortunately, your loved ones probably won’t know that until it’s too late to remedy the errors. If your documents are invalid, Maryland statutes govern what happens to your estate when you pass away and who takes care of you in the event of incapacity.
If you make a last will and testament that doesn’t conform to the established legal requirements, Maryland laws of intestate succession determine who receives the property in your estate. Those people may not be the same as your intended beneficiaries. An invalid will has no legal effect. The result is the same as if you die without a will. In addition, a court proceeding to contest your will is possible, which can drain the assets in your estate and ruin lifelong family relationships.
Invalid durable powers of attorney due to DIY estate planning can lead to adult guardianship proceedings in court. In that situation, a judge decides who manages your finances and makes personal care decisions if you become incapacitated. The court may appoint individuals other than those you want to have those essential responsibilities.
To avoid the risk of ending up with invalid estate planning documents, you should create your estate plan with assistance from an experienced estate planning lawyer. That is the only way to ensure your estate plan is valid under Maryland law.
A DIY Estate Plan May Not Include All the Necessary Documents
A complete estate plan includes multiple legal documents, each of which is essential to providing thorough protection for you and your loved ones. Absent guidance from a knowledgeable attorney, your DIY estate plan may omit critical documents, leaving you without necessary legal protection when you need it the most. Omitted documents also can lead to probate litigation, which results in a judge making important decisions that you could make for yourself in your estate plan.
For seniors, estate planning should include long-term care planning. In some cases, that means planning for Medicaid coverage of nursing home costs. DIY estate planning cannot and does not identify or address those needs, which are an essential part of every senior’s estate plan. Even attempting to arrange coverage on your own can have serious adverse impacts on your finances and on your family.
An additional important estate planning goal for seniors is protection from elder abuse and exploitation. Forms and online services do not provide this protection. DIY estate planning can leave you vulnerable to these risks, which often occur as adults age. Your estate planning attorney makes certain that your estate plan fully protects you against all future contingencies, including potential elder abuse and exploitation.
DIY Estate Planning Documents May Not Fit Your Personal and Financial Circumstances
Every estate plan is as unique as the individual who creates it. Your individual documents must be tailored to your own wishes and needs. Choosing which documents belong in your estate plan requires the ability to make an informed choice about what alternatives are available and what each option accomplishes.
DIY estate planning through forms and online services does not include the in-depth analysis of your circumstances that should precede creating an estate plan. A discussion with a legal professional about your financial and personal circumstances, and about what you want to accomplish with your estate plan, is an essential part of the estate planning process. Skipping that step may well result in an estate plan that doesn’t even fit your situation.
Your DIY estate planning efforts may be completely inadequate to accomplish your intended goals. For example, in some circumstances, a trust is the best way to accomplish your estate planning goals, while a last will and testament is not sufficient. Making that judgment requires legal expertise, as does creating a trust document that addresses your needs. Your lawyer’s role includes helping you to identify your estate planning goals, and then ensuring that all the necessary documents are part of your estate plan.
Your estate planning documents are not the only factor in determining distribution of your estate after death. You probably have accounts and assets that include title documents or beneficiary designations, such as real estate and bank accounts or a life insurance policy, securities account, or a retirement, IRA, or 401(k) account. Your estate planning lawyer makes certain that all the titles and beneficiary designations for your assets are consistent with the provisions of your estate plan. Using a form or online service cannot accomplish that important task. The result can be inconsistent documents that create legal uncertainty in your estate plan, which can lead to a catastrophic outcome and even to family litigation over your estate.
The only way to ensure that your estate plan fits your personal and financial circumstances is to get assistance from an estate planning attorney. You should never take the chance that your loved ones won’t receive the legacy you intend for them, or that you leave yourself vulnerable in the event of incapacity or a need for long-term care. DIY estate planning is a serious mistake that you can easily avoid.
Talk With an Experienced Rockville, Maryland Estate Planning Attorney
Attorney Henry Nash has extensive experience in Maryland estate planning and in assisting seniors and their families with all elder law needs. If you wish to create a new estate plan or revise one that is outdated, you can count on The Law Office of Henry Nash to ensure that your estate plan fully protects you, your family, and your assets.
We assist clients in Rockville, throughout Montgomery County, and elsewhere in Maryland. We also assist out-of-state personal representatives for Maryland estates. If you have questions about any of our services, we welcome you to call us at (301) 998-6111 or contact us through our online form.