Google words like “wills,” “trusts,” “power of attorney,” and other estate planning terms and you will find links to websites offering free or low-cost forms available for download. These sites tell you that you can DIY your own estate planning documents; why hire an attorney when you can prepare your own documents and save money? However, as the saying goes “you get what you pay for” and these forms come with many risks, including the following:

  1. Not valid in your state. Some websites provide forms that are not tailored to the laws of your specific state. Even if the sites state that they are valid in your state, there is no guarantee that the forms are correct or the most up-to-date. Remember these sites are not law firms and will typically have disclaimer language stating that they are not giving legal advice. In other words, it’s up to you to figure out if the documents you have prepared are in fact valid.

  1. Limited instructions regarding execution. While the form itself may be valid, most states have laws regarding the proper execution of the documents, such as how many witnesses you need, who can be a witness, getting signatures notarized, obtaining affidavits from witnesses, etc. If the proper execution rules are not followed, the document may not be valid or otherwise may become problematic. In addition, executing the document itself may not be enough. You may need to take additional steps to implement your estate plan. For example, you can set up a trust with a valid legal form and execute it properly, but you may also need to transfer or retitle assets so that the assets can belong to the trust properly.

  1. Generic documents. The appropriate estate planning documents and provisions vary depending on your circumstances. You may think you just need a “basic” will, but you may not be aware of other options or how you can tailor language to best suit your needs. For example, if you have minor children, an adult child with financial problems, children from a prior marriage, or estate tax or long-term care concerns, there are several estate planning strategies that can be included in your documents to protect yours and their interests.

  1. No guidance on selecting representatives. As part of your estate planning, you may name executors, trustees, guardians, agents, and others responsible for handling your affairs and implementing your wishes. These are important roles and should be given to people you trust and who are ready, willing, and able to do the job you want them to do. These positions also carry legal liability if someone does not act appropriately. However, you should also put other safeguards in place. An attorney can advise you on the types of representatives you will need to name, their duties, limits on their powers, protecting your interests, and other relevant issues.

Estate planning is more than just creating documents. It involves understanding the whole picture of estate and tax laws, your finances, and personal goals, and then determining the best tools to be used to accomplish your objectives. Software or internet forms can rarely offer the type of individualized planning that is needed to protect your rights, assets, and heirs.

If you need assistance with your estate planning, contact us for a consultation.

For more information, read our related post: 10 Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes.