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Craig's Corner - Wealth Planning Insights

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Do-It-Yourself Wills: Are They a Good Idea?

The Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Documents

Today, there are many options for DIY estate planning - online websites, form books, self-help guides, and paralegal services.  However, all of these have two things in common:  (1) at best, they provide only "fill-in-the-blank" forms; and (2) none of them provide the most important part of estate planning - legal advice.  Without the skill, expertise, and knowledge that comes from working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you take the substantial risk that the DIY forms will not work when needed. 

Any legal assistance generally comes at a cost, however reasonable that cost might be, so it’s tempting to avoid legal help to save money when possible. But just as representing yourself in a criminal case might result in an otherwise avoidable jail stint, handling your own estate planning documents may result in costly estate taxes, a Will dispute or other mix up upon your passing.

A case in point: A wealthy individual in Texas opted to save the cost of hiring an attorney to draft his will and instead used a library book of forms to draft his will himself. He achieved what was perhaps his single goal – successfully leaving all that he owned to his wife. But his limited knowledge of estate and will law led to his failure to address tax law. The result was the accidental forfeiture of his federal estate tax exemption, so that his wife was left facing estate taxes on $3.5 million. A simple step of establishing a family trust could have saved the surviving spouse hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another case in point: A Washington state father drafted his own will leaving all of his property to his adult son and daughter. When the son’s business faced bankruptcy, he asked his father to transfer his share of the estate to a trust to protect it from creditors. The father saved the cost of a visit to an attorney and instead rewrote his will, instead of tasking an experienced attorney with the transfer. The accidental result? All of his estate went to the daughter, who refused to split it with her brother.

As these and countless other examples demonstrate, there are no short cuts when it comes to properly handling your estate. Protection from creditors, as well as the avoidance of Will disputes and taxes are just a few issues that an experienced estate planning attorney can easily help you strategize and resolve.

Typically, a person works for 40 years to accumulate wealth, and will spend about 15 years in retirement trying to preserve this same wealth.  As such, it seems very ironic that this same person is willing to spend as little as possible and entrust the successful transfer of their wealth to their loved ones on a set of "forms" that are meant to fit the general circumstances of 10 million people, and the specific circumstances of no one in particular. Ultimately, the greatest risk of DIY planning is you will "never know what you don't know"; the benefit of a professionally prepared estate plan is that an attorney will know to ask you the right questions and recommend options that you might not have otherwise considered.  

For legal help in preparing your Will, Trust and other estate planning documents in Nevada, contact Stone Law Offices Ltd. in Las Vegas by calling 877-905-0890 or by email to info@nvestateplan.com


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S. Craig Stone II of Stone Law Offices, Ltd. serves clients throughout Clark County, Southern NV, Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, North Las Vegas, Summerlin, Carson City, Reno, Washoe County, and Nye County. Also serving clients with asset protection nationwide.



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