Do It Yourself Estate Planning

October 2018

With the proliferation of on-line document production systems and do-it-yourself estate planning books, you may be wondering whether you should create your own documents, instead of paying an attorney to prepare your Will, Trust and/or Power of Attorney. The on-line systems appear to be easy to complete. The estate planning books claim to be valid in all states. You may be tempted to try your hand at the paperwork to save some of your children’s inheritance.

We understand the temptation. Unfortunately, our experience has shown that self-prepared estate planning documents are all too often either ill conceived or poorly drafted.

Estate planning documents are designed to be used when you are either incompetent or deceased. At this point, since you will be unable to make any changes, mistakes can be very difficult and costly to correct. Estate or income taxes may be paid unnecessarily. Even if everyone in the family agrees on the intended distribution of estate assets, court action is often needed to implement the intended plan. If the estate recipients do not agree on a proposed correction, however, the resulting litigation can last for many years, significantly reducing the value of the estate ultimately passing to the beneficiaries, and often irreparably damaging family relationships. Only the lawyers seem to benefit from the botched plan.

Most importantly, estate planning documents need to be tailored for your personal circumstances and financial situation. The documents which may perfectly suit your neighbor may be inappropriate for you and your family. Although the estate planning books and systems may offer many choices at minimal cost, there is limited direction to select the most appropriate provisions to meet your needs or intentions. The advice of a professional is needed to select the appropriate choice for your estate plan, to explain the legal and practical implications of the various options.

Admittedly, the New Hampshire Advance Directive for Health Care is a statutory form, available to download and sign without cost here. This form includes both a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Living Will. Originally adopted in 1991, this form was expressly redesigned in 2007 to be easier for individuals to complete and properly execute without professional advice. Nevertheless, for many of our clients, the choices in this document require further explanation.

Many attorneys advertise that their services include estate planning. Some of these attorneys also counsel clients on a range of other issues, including divorce, real estate, corporate issues and criminal matters. These attorneys generally practice in all areas of the law and do not choose to concentrate on estate and trust law. With only a general understanding of estate planning, their documents may be similar to the self-prepared documents and not appropriately tailored to your unique family and financial circumstances.

The attorneys at Ansell & Anderson are not general practitioners. Each of us elected to focus our practice in trust and estate law, and related matters, many years ago. We will refer our clients to other attorneys for other complex legal issues. Most importantly, we will help you to create an estate plan which is appropriate for your family and property.

The documents which implement your estate plan are only a part of the process. We will help you to understand the choices which are available to you and the consequences of your decisions.