Is a self-help estate plan a good idea? – Monterey Herald

Question: I would like to write my own estate plan. It doesn’t seem that hard and there are plenty of self-help resources online that I can use. Why should I pay a lawyer thousands of dollars for an estate plan I can write myself? I’m glad to hear your thoughts.

Responnse: I agree that there are online resources and services that can help you establish an estate plan. I get this question with some frequency and still cringe. The area of ​​estate planning is the most contentious area of ​​law. This means that the majority of all court cases involve inheritance disputes. Litigators like the fact that people try to write their own plans. These two facts, the high number of court cases involving estates and the fact that litigators love the self-help legal industry, should give you pause when it comes to writing your own estate plan.

If you have a simple estate like a few bank accounts and maybe an IRA, you could theoretically do your own planning by naming a beneficiary on your IRA and making “Pay on Death” designations on your bank accounts. What remains unanswered, however, is how will your final arrangements be handled? Who will pay for the cremation and obtain the death certificates so the IRA and bank accounts can be paid to the beneficiaries? Who will file your final tax return and pay any outstanding debts you may have at the time of your death? What if you become disabled at the end of life and need someone to help pay your bills for a while? You can add a power of attorney document for finances and the appointed agent can handle the bill paying function, but none of the actions that need to be taken after your death. A power of attorney for finances ends on death, so your appointed proxy cannot do anything for you after you leave. Also, who will take care of disposing of your personal property?

If you have more complex assets like a home and investment accounts, a representative from your estate will need to handle the sale of those assets when you die and then make a distribution to your heirs or charities. If you are preparing a will to settle the distribution of your estate, your named executor will need to file a probate. That’s fine, but depending on the size of your estate, probates can be expensive and time-consuming. At present, holding a probate hearing with the court is over three months.

Although I administer trusts, I do not prepare estate planning documents, so it is not selfish for me to say that a well thought out and prepared estate plan is worth its weight in gold. Estate planning may seem expensive, but it can help avoid problems now and later. There are so many things to consider and so many ways a plan can go wrong. It is strongly recommended that you work with an experienced attorney who knows what will work best for you and your family.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years of experience in the areas of estate planning and trusts and is a licensed professional trustee. Liza is currently President of Monterey Trust Management. It is not legal or tax advice. If you have a question, call (831) 646-5262 or email [email protected]

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