Hiring an estate-planning attorney costs what, you say? Three hundred dollars an hour plus consultation, filing, and signing fees? To heck with that. You’re better off creating an estate plan on your own, right?
It depends. There are pros to the do-it-yourself (DIY) estate plan, but be very careful—there are also treacherous territories ahead.
With a DIY estate plan, you’re gambling with your life’s legacy. If your estate plan falls through, you risk leaving your beneficiaries with far less of your estate than you’d intended—or nothing at all.
However, if done correctly and carefully, a DIY estate plan could save you time, money, and the hassle of finding a trustworthy, qualified attorney.
Pro: DIY estate planning is convenient
You can conveniently create an estate plan in the comfort of your home. If you have a computer, or even a smartphone and internet access, you can order an estate-planning kit while you cook your dinner.
Most kits come with instructions, either on a CD or in a booklet, and all the forms you need to draft a comprehensive estate plan.
Pro: DIY estate planning can save you time
Death waits for no one. Why waste piles of precious time shopping around for the right estate-planning attorney, waiting for appointments, and sitting in them? You can order a kit today and work through it at your convenience.
Pro: DIY estate planning can save you money
The star prize for doing anything yourself is the wad of cash sitting heavy and ready for your spending pleasure after you finish your DIY project. Each estate-planning attorney has their own fee structure—and most fee structures tend to be on the expensive side.
Note: Some estate-planning attorneys charge flat fees for estate-planning services. Others may charge hourly fees or a percentage of the total estate value. It isn’t unheard of to spend thousands putting together your estate plan. On the other hand, a DIY kit can cost as low as $28.
Con: A DIY mistake can have lasting consequences for your beneficiaries
Without legal help, you risk misinterpreting and incorrectly supplying crucial information to your estate plan. Incorrectly supplied information in an estate plan risks invalidating it.
For example, if your will, a crucial part of your estate plan, isn’t written well enough or is inconsistent, your family members can contest your will’s validity in probate court, which will then decide who gets what of your estate after a long, costly process. It isn’t uncommon for probate court to completely consume the total value of an estate.
Con: DIY estate planning can’t answer your questions
If you’re the type of person who relies on winging it through life, you risk making a costly mistake somewhere in your estate plan. Suck it up, and ask for help.
Creating a valid estate plan requires careful wording of highly sensitive information, which you’ll surely have questions about. Estate-planning attorneys can answer your questions so you don’t make a mistake in drafting your estate plan.
Con: DIY estate planning doesn’t keep up with state law
A common mistake DIYers make is not tracking state estate laws, which are different in each state. Confounding that issue, estate laws change all the time.
A DIY estate-planning kit published in California probably won’t tell you that the state of Massachusetts requires two disinterested witnesses to sign your will. An estate-planning attorney will know the estate laws in your state.
The Bottom Line
How you put together your estate plan is up to you, whether you’re a gung-ho DIYer or not. At the end of the day, you must draft your estate plan with the interests of your beneficiaries in mind, and a mistake in your plan, even a small one, can prove disastrous down the road. If you don’t have the money to spend on an estate-planning attorney, do your research prior to drafting a DIY estate plan. Either way, don’t wait—take care of your loved ones today.