When the term “Do-It-Yourself” or “DIY” comes to mind, what do you think of? A weekend spent working hard on a home improvement project? An evening putting together your kid’s new bicycle?

DIT projects can bring a lot of joy and pride from realizing you’ve accomplished something great on your own. On the other hand, doing a big project by yourself can be a big undertaking, cause a lot of frustration, and it may not get done as well as it could if someone trained and experienced had done it.

The “DIY” modality has even reached the legal realm. Websites like Legal Zoom or Nolo.com claim that they can help you quickly draft a computer-generated legal document at a fraction of the price that most lawyers charge. Their inexpensive offerings range from preparation of prenuptial agreements, divorce, wills, and business incorporation documents.

Yet, oftentimes these deals are too good to be true. Especially when it comes to good estate planning where there cannot be a  “one-size-fits-all” model.  Every state has different estate and tax laws, and our financial, personal, and family circumstances are all unique.

When you have a toothache or a cavity, do you pull out your tooth yourself? No, you go to a dentist. Without one, you’re likely to end up with a mess and more pain. The same holds true for estate planning and preparing important legal documents—seeking the advice and counsel of a good lawyer is crucial.

Websites that produce computer-generated legal documents certainly are convenient and inexpensive, but they also might be giving you a false sense of security. The old saying, “you get what you pay for,” rings very true here. While the upfront financial savings may be appealing, the actual cost to your family and loved ones later can be quite significant if your plan does not work. Remember, having no plan is a bad plan but a bad plan is no plan.  Both will be very costly to you family.  Thus, the question becomes who do you want to bear the cost of your estate planning choices – you now or your family later?

It is also important to be mindful that what is being sold in the DIY model is not estate planning but simply document drafting. Good estate planning involves a conversation with an estate planning attorney with whom you can have a dialogue and who can counsel you about what to watch out for as well as the possible options available to achieve your goals.

The danger with a DIY option, of course, is that you don’t know what you don’t know and there is no one to ask. Without knowing the potential consequences of certain decisions you make when filling out forms, all you are doing is playing a guessing game. Chance is dangerous game when it comes to protecting you and your family’s future well-being.

Instead seek out an attorney you can trust so you can have the peace of mind your plan will work when needed. The following are some additional benefits:

More than Just Legal Advice.

A good estate planning attorney will not only know the ins and outs of the law and how to draft a sound legal document, but will be well-suited to counsel you on the sensitive and dramatically impactful decisions that make up the estate planning process. For example, they can help you sort through the reasons why certain family members may or may not be the best choice for successor trustee of your estate, or why your aging parents who live across the country may not be the best guardian choices for your minor children.  Helping you play out a variety of legal scenarios will be important to ensure your plan does not direct unintended consequences.

Tailoring a Custom Plan for Your Unique Needs.

An estate planning attorney can help you identify realistic and appropriate goals are for your estate plan, and tailor a plan specifically to you. A “one size fits all” is in fact unlikely to fit you at all.

A Comprehensive Approach.

The inherent danger in the DIY model is that it requires you to be an expert in a field in which you are not. Not only is there a concern that you might fill out the form incorrectly, but there are similar concerns that you are not selecting the correct forms for you and that you short change yourself and not select all the documents you need. Moreover, how do the documents you select and fill out working together, or are they in conflict? From the ala cart menu of documents presented in the DIY model, it is impossible to see the forest through the trees. That is why document drafting is not estate planning. To truly plan well, an estate planning attorney will help you see the whole picture through conversation and counseling so you can plan accordingly.

Helping you Maintain Your Plan:

Life changes in a blink of an eye, so it is important to make sure that your plan continues to fit you and your family’s needs.  Laws, finances, health and family dynamics are always in flux and will affect the mechanics of your estate plan. If you don’t maintain your plan by periodically reviewing and revising it, chances are it will not be the plan you want or need. Building a relationship with your estate planning attorney will allow you to maintain it over time because they will notify you of important changes in the law that impact you directly, help you identify potential problem areas before you might realize them, and propose necessary and appropriate adjustments.

Instead of waiting to realize a change is necessary, wouldn’t it be nice to have professional oversight at your fingertips to provide advice and counsel?  That way you don’t have to worry about what you don’t know, and your plan can grow with you with ease and less stress.  Best of all, it increases your chances that it will work when needed.

Growing a Relationship With a Trusted Advisor:

Building a strong relationship with an estate planning attorney that you trust and who takes the time to know you will also be invaluable to your family when your plan goes into effect upon your incapacity or death. Your family will have your attorney immediately available to assist them instead of having to waste time searching for some other attorney who doesn’t know you or your family at all.  Another added benefit to growing a relationship with a trusted advisor is that you can reap the benefits of their professional network.  You might not always need the help of your attorney, but need advice from other trusted professionals such as a financial planner or an accountant.  Instead of spending time and energy searching yourself, you can leverage your estate planning attorney’s quality connections. A referral is always a way to easily get connected with other top-notch professionals; especially ones that work well together.  This approach will enable you to build a financial power team whose combined expertise will protect you in a way filling out documents on the internet never will.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and the principal Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is passionate about family, educating his community about estate planning and veterans issues, and helping people best preserve and protect what matters most.

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