Florida Wills and Trusts – Why “Do It Yourself” Estate Planning is Risky Business
Do-it-yourself Wills and Trusts have become hugely popular. You can find them at estate planning websites such as LegalZoom, Nolo or BuildaWill, where you can create your own estate plan online, quickly at a low cost.
There are also software programs such as Quicken WillMaker, and pre-packaged do-it-yourself estate planning kits, such as Suze Orman Estate Planning (Suze Orman’s Protection Portfolio). These kits come with Wills, Trusts and other legal documents on CDs or DVDs with advice on what to do with them.
For example, BuildaWill.com creates a will for you online by asking you questions and inserting your answers. The whole process takes less than 30 minutes and costs around $20.
LegalZoom works the same way for a little more money, with someone checking your answers to make sure all fields are complete. Some websites offering online estate planning have a phone-in customer support feature.
Compared to hiring an estate planning attorney, these websites and software provide a cheap, quick way to create Wills and Trusts. They advertise, why pay an attorney thousands of dollars to prepare a Will, when theirs is just as good.
But, while do-it-yourself estate planning may save you money in the short term, they can also help you lose money and control of your possessions in the long run.
Do-it-yourself Wills and Trusts Are Only as Good as the People Who Create Them
People now are so accustomed to buying things and interacting online. Perhaps that is what I find to be the most unnerving aspect of do-it-yourself estate planning. If it’s online, and says, Developed by expert attorneys it must be ok.
You simply use fill-in-the-blank legal forms for Wills and Trusts, Living Trusts, or Powers of Attorney.
Not sure what document you need? Just read the bullet points and online resources, and figure out whether you need a Last Will, a Living Trust, or a Living Will.
In most cases, people do not know what they truly need. That is because they are unaware of all of the legal and financial solutions that an estate planning attorney will offer. Do-it-yourself estate planning only gives you part of a plan.
Wills or Trusts?
Both Wills and Trusts are tools designed do the same thing pass on assets at death. Each tool uses a different method to do it. Each can be very effective.
With do-it-yourself estate planning, you need to know which method is right for your circumstances. Deciding the appropriate tools depends on many factors. A choice that is suitable now may not be later because of different location, circumstances, or goals.
We all need to explore many estate planning avenues, and use the best means to achieve our goals of minimizing taxes and leaving an inheritance to our families.
Can Do-it-yourself Wills and Trusts Guarantee Medicaid Asset Protection?
Medicaid planning to cover long-term care expenses is often overlooked by many people, and Medicaid eligibility will not be taken into account by do-it-yourself estate planning programs.
Medicaid estate planning is an invaluable tool that uses Florida Medicaid to pay for nursing home and assisted living during one’s elder years. It can be done painlessly and wisely through certain types of tools such as trusts, spending money on exempt assets, or other legal measures.
Execution of Wills and Trusts
I am also concerned with how do-it-yourself Wills and Trusts are executed.
Under Florida law, there are a number of requirements for making a valid Will.
For instance, Florida Wills must be executed by the testator who is 18 years old and in sound mind and body, in the presence of two competent witnesses who are also in the presence of each other. Then the testator and the witnesses must sign again before a notary public.
Providers of do-it-yourself estate planning may give instructions about how to execute the documents; yet there is no way they guarantee that their clients don’t forget, ignore, or otherwise fail to follow the instructions.
Florida courts have ruled that attorneys who were negligent in the preparation of a Will or in the supervision of its execution may be sued by the beneficiaries. If this happens, the beneficiaries may have legal recourse to financial recovery.
Since Wills and Trusts from LegalZoom and other do-it-yourself providers are not prepared by attorneys, you may have no recourse when you yourself fail to execute them properly.
Nothing is as simple as it sounds when it come to the Law.
While do-it-yourself estate planning may be cheap and convenient, this process can easily backfire, creating problems that will ultimately be shouldered by your heirs.
By talking with a lawyer who has prepared many Wills and Trusts and dealt with the effects of them, you get the benefit of experience and knowledge that you will not otherwise have. You cannot get that value or service from an online, non-lawyer, estate planning document preparation business.
Estate planning attorneys use many legal instruments to assess the value of one’s estate, transfer rights to guardianship, plan for elder long-term care, prepare the appropriate legal documents (such as wills and trusts, healthcare proxies and powers of attorney), provide gifts to family members and charities, and minimize estate taxes.
If you have used an online estate planning service or software to prepare your estate plans, you should, at the very least, have them reviewed by a Florida estate planning attorney.