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Where do self-prepared wills or trusts fall short?

A do-it-yourself approach seems to be highly regarded in our culture. From home improvement projects to online tutorials and courses, Americans like to empower themselves to success.

That spirit also resonates with our attorneys, who focus on estate law. We encourage individuals to make an inventory of their assets and beneficiaries. Online will or trust guides may even help individuals to better direct their efforts. However, a will or trust that is not validly executed may not accomplish the directives of its creator. In fact, a court might even regard an invalid will or trust document as equivalent to no document at all.

The way to avoid this dilemma is to have an attorney review any drafts prepared by an individual. There are do-it-yourself guides not only for wills, but also other documents like revocable and irrevocable trusts. Our law firm focuses on estate planning and can review any self-prepared documents to ensure that they are valid, that they can be executed, and that they will accomplish the intended objectives. 

In addition, our attorneys can also propose alternatives beyond the scope of mere do-it-yourself guides. For example, individuals may question whether a living trust is necessary for everyone. The answer depends on the type of assets and properties that an individual has. If probate assets are low, an expedited probate may be preferable to the cost of setting up a trust. In addition, life insurance policies, annuities and retirement accounts, and payable-on-death accounts will pass to a named beneficiary without going through probate. 

Another consideration to think about regarding trusts is the specificity they require. Setting up a trust is only the first step. An individual must also specifically transfer assets into the trust, a process that does not happen automatically. It can be easy to forget to transfer certain assets, especially in the case of a revocable trust. For example, before a revocable trust can hold accounts, those assets need to be retitled in the name of the trust. Trust documentation describing the purpose of the trust and its intended funding will not accomplish that transfer alone. 

Source: Financial Planning, “9 Estate Planning Pitfalls to Avoid,” Rachel F. Elson, April 21, 2015

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