Sure, you can find just about anything online, but chances are that it will not meet your individual needs, or worse, could lead to unintended consequences and more taxes. Potential clients often ask why they should see an attorney when forms are readily available at the click of a button. Increasingly, I see younger generations who are very tech-savvy and want things instantly. But a will is not something that you should tackle on your own – it’s no weekend do-it-yourself home improvement project.
A qualified attorney can assess your current situation and devote significantly more attention to making your will and developing your estate plan than you would take searching for and filling out a form. Life is complex and family dynamics often come into play when drafting an estate plan. A form has no way of counseling you on any emotionally-charged issues.
When you meet with your attorney, be prepared to discuss your assets and how they are titled. Clients tend to shy away from discussing all their assets, and often will claim that their accounts are taken care of. However, your attorney needs to have the full picture to draft specific clauses for your will and to ensure that your wishes will be carried out. A simple online form cannot guide you and remind you of other, non-probate assets, that do not pass according to your will. Forgetting about an asset or failing to update a beneficiary designation could adversely impact your family.
Let’s look at two examples:
Cathy is a married mother of an adult son and a minor daughter. She and her husband have joint bank accounts, own their home together with right of survivorship, and each has the other as the primary beneficiary on their individual life insurance policies. Her will leaves everything to her husband and then to the children. It appears that Cathy has her estate planning taken care of.
Unfortunately, Cathy forgot to update the beneficiary designation on the 401(k) from her first job out of college. She started this job long before she met her husband, and listed her parents as primary beneficiaries and her cousin as the secondary beneficiary. The 401(k) has grown significantly over the last 30 years and is her most valuable asset. When Cathy dies, her 401(k) will go directly to those named beneficiaries, rather than her husband or children as she had hoped or expected.
In our next example, Cathy has an investment account that she opened many years ago. She listed her godson as the beneficiary because he came from a poor family, and she wanted him to succeed in life. Her godson excelled academically and became the CEO of a multi-million-dollar tech company. However, he became addicted to opioids after a car accident in which he broke his back, and lost everything. Cathy, although heartbroken at the path her godson ended on, forgot to remove him as the beneficiary on her account. In this example, when Cathy dies, the funds will go directly to her godson, someone she no longer wants to inherit because of his addiction.
In both examples, unintended consequences result because Cathy failed to consider all her assets and how they were titled. Her assets will go to someone other than her husband or children, with significant inheritance tax owed.
The best way to avoid Cathy’s mistakes is to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. It could save your family unnecessary stress, and ensure that they receive both your probate and ono-probate assets as you intended.
If you have any questions about this post or any related matter, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.