It is important to understand that estate planning documents do not exist in a vacuum. Estate planning is one of the most technical and dynamic areas of the law. Properly planning an estate requires consideration of federal and state tax issues, state property law, state probate law and state trust law. Estate planning documents must be carefully customized to meet each individual’s unique circumstances and objectives. If they are not, unintended, and often costly, consequences may result.
Suppose you use a generic template that you find online to create a last will and testament or revocable living trust. Are you sure that the documents that you wind up with will stand up to any challenges that may present themselves after your death? Are you sure the tax sensitive provisions of your documents have been properly considered for your particular circumstances? Could there be conflicting clauses that require your family to go to court to interpret the document after you have passed? Has the document been thoughtfully drafted under state law so that your beneficiaries’ inheritances are protected from a divorcing spouse or other potential creditors?
Another thing to consider is best explained by way of example. Let's say that you never played golf before. You look into the bag and you see a lot of clubs, but you really don't know what club you should use. You may not use the right clubs as you try to negotiate the course without any information. The same is true of estate planning. There are numerous different legal instruments that can be utilized. Just arbitrarily deciding which ones you are going to use in a DIY last will and testament or revocable living trust is simply reckless.
These are a few things to think about, but if you would like to learn more of the facts we urge you to download our free report on DIY estate planning. This special report goes into a good bit of detail about the dangers of do-it-yourself wills and living trusts.
We urge you to download your copy of the report. Access will be granted if you follow the simple instructions that you see after clicking this link: The Dangers of DIY Wills & Living Trusts.
There are DIY legal document sites on the Internet that sell generic fill-in-the-blanks legal documents including last wills. Another type of do-it-yourself estate planning involves the use of joint ownership. It is possible to add a co-account holder to your brokerage and/or bank accounts. If you do this the co-owner would be the only owner of the assets in these accounts at the time of your passing. You could instruct this individual to distribute this remainder to other people of your choosing. Voilà, you have an estate plan in place (or so the story goes).
There are difficulties with this strategy of joint ownership. Clearly you are going to choose a joint owner that you think you can trust. Be that as it may, you have no guarantees regarding what this person does with the money after you pass away. He or she may not agree with your inheritance ideas. As a result individuals that you care about may ultimately be disinherited. There is also the matter of creditors. If your co-owner was to accrue debt his or her creditors could seek to attach or lien property that is held jointly. The same is true of anyone who may be suing the co-owner for one reason or another. In the case of divorce a departing spouse could target these funds as well. Then there is the issue of a loss of the full step up in basis of appreciated assets.
Joint ownership is not a truly viable alternative to a properly constructed estate plan. Discuss these matters with a qualified estate planning attorney to be sure that your wishes become a reality after you pass away.