"Estate Planning: DIY or Pro?" – Gary Altman Stresses the Danger in “DIY” Estate Planning

It’s easy to surmise that an estate planning attorney wouldn’t thinking too much of someone drafting their own will, trust, or other estate-related document, such as a health directive. In an interview with Bankrate.com, Altman underscores his weariness against “DIY” estate planning, such as online services. Altman says, "Online estate planning documents probably work very well if you want to leave your assets outright to one or two people, and those people have virtually no legal or financial problems.” He strongly recommends anyone considering it, however, to answer the following:

  1. How big is my estate?
  2. Who am I leaving it to, and are they minors, or do they have issues like angry creditors I need to plan around?
  3. How am I leaving it to them, such as through a will or a trust?

Altman mentions the following example: "I'm about to hand a check for $400,000 to an 18-year-old because instead of making sure her life insurance proceeds went into a trust for her daughter, the mom left the money to her daughter outright."

Sighting the criticality of keeping your estate documents current, Altman says, "Sometimes people think that when they've done estate planning, they never have to look at those documents again. This is not true. I had clients who did estate planning with me in 1997. Since then, the estate tax laws changed, and an obscure regulation that affected a small fraction of the public -- including them -- changed."

Altman has final words of caution. "There are a number of people who don't consult estate planning experts because they don't want to spend the money," he says. "But estate planning is something that if you make a mistake, there's no way to correct it because you're no longer around. If you don't pay to have estate planning documents done properly now, your heirs will probably pay more than you'll have ever paid a professional to do them. In many ways, the most selfless thing you'll ever do is to make sure your children or heirs will receive your assets in the best and least costly way possible."

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