DIY Estate Planning : Savvy Money Saving Tool or Disaster in Disguise?

As the recession deepens, more Americans are trading high priced attorneys for DIY estate planning kits online.   Yet despite the appealing cost, do online estate planning kits really have what it takes to protect your children, assets or wishes should something happen to you? Atlanta estate planning attorney, Steve Worrall, cuts through the hype to reveal when you can go it alone and when DIY planning is a financial disaster in disguise.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA –    Who needs a $300 an hour estate planning lawyer when you can buy an entire DIY will kit online for under $100?

That’s the question most Americans find themselves asking lately, as the creation of computer generated wills, trusts and other estate planning documents make DIY planning seem like a very budget-savvy choice.

Yet do these documents really hold weight in the Georgia probate courts and will they truly protect your children, assets or wishes should the unthinkable happen?

“It depends,” says Atlanta family estate planning attorney, Steve Worrall.  “Certainly  someone with no children and assets under $100,000 could possibly benefit from DIY estate planning. The real problem, though, is that you don’t know what you don’t know and like anything in life, one size rarely fits all.  In the case of estate planning, one simple mistake can cost your family thousands of dollars and years of headaches if death or incapacity unexpectedly occurs.” he warns.

So what situations warrant meeting with a qualified estate planning professional over a budget-friendly kit online?  Worrall recommends the following:

1.       You’ve been divorced or remarried– According to Worrall, DIY kits rarely take into account the complexities of divorce, remarriage or having children from a previous marriage.  Without proper guidance, a mistake in this area could cause a number of problems, including a spouse losing out financially to a child from a previous marriage (as was the case with Ana Nicole Smith) or the disinheritance of children.

2.       You have children– Worrall recalls reviewing documents from a popular online will kit only to find boilerplate language stating that future children were disinherited under the plan. “My client was horrified, and it really opened my eyes as to just how dangerous these kits can be for parents with minor children,” says Worrall.  According to Worrall, DIY kits also fail to advise parents of the best way to leave an inheritance to their children, thus setting the stage for money problems down the road.

3.       You’re in an alternative living situation– Gays, lesbians and life-partners should always meet with a qualified professional when planning for their death or incapacity.  “Unfortunately, the laws are not on the side of people in non-traditional relationships, so I always recommend professional guidance to ensure your family stays protected physically and financially should tragedy strike,” says Worrall.

4.       You have a special needs child– According to Worrall, parents of special needs children must be extremely cautious when using DIY estate planning kits online. “Many parents fail to realize that leaving money outright to a special needs child can jeopardize their ability to qualify for Medicaid or other benefits in the future,” says Worrall. He also warns that such kits fail to properly advise parents of guardianship issues and other ways to make sure their child is properly cared for in their absence.

“It only takes one tiny oversight in a DIY estate plan to cause the entire thing to backfire, or even become null and void in Georgia. And of course, by the time people realize such a problem exist, it’s often too late to go back or costs a fortune to fix, “says Worrall. “I’m a DIY’er myself, but I recognize my limitations.  And when it comes protecting your assets, wishes and your children, I encourage others to do the same and seek the counsel of a professional lawyer that can guide them through the process.”