Jane Hodges of the Wall Street Journal recently jumped in where few would fear to tread—and lived to write about it. Where most people would prefer not to think about taxes and estate planning at all if they could help it, Hodges went through the process of creating an estate plan not only once, but with four different Do-It-Yourself Will or Trust kits, and shared her findings with her readers.
Although Hodges gives a decent description of her experience with the various kits, her final verdict is inconclusive. But what does come through loud and clear in the article is that a “Do-It-Yourself” (“DIY”) Trust or Will isn’t as easy as it seems, and that anyone with a significant amount of assets (and by significant we mean a house or life-insurance policies) should not be doing it themselves; “the program presented a pop-up note indicating that people with more than $1 million in assets might need an attorney…” One million may sound like a lot, but as mentioned above, just about anybody with a house or life insurance policy is going to fall into this category.
What Hodges and her husband discovered (and we think this would be the experience of most people looking for a DIY solution to estate planning) is that there is a lot more to creating a will or trust than a simple distribution of assets. Most people have specific wishes for leaving their home to their spouse; for ensuring that the surviving spouse has access to joint assets but does not have the ability to bypass your children and leave everything to a new husband or wife if they remarry; for earmarking a certain percentage of the estate for brothers or sisters, nieces or nephews; and so much more. Add to this the complicated and changing state and federal estate tax laws and DIY estate planning kits can be a frustrating recipe for disaster.
The goal of estate planning is not only to distribute your assets, but also to protect them—and to protect and provide for the family and loved ones who are left behind. Ultimately, no program can understand this and help you with it the way a living, feeling, and experienced estate planning attorney can.