Our estate planning attorneys at the Brady Cobin Law Group often get calls from families in the Raleigh area who are trying to untangle messes created by departed loved ones who thought they could use an online form to write a will.
With so many instructional videos online, do-it-yourselfers try their hands at everything from building decks to tackling kitchen plumbing to car repair. It saves money and it can be rewarding to admire your handiwork and say, “I did that!” There are many instances where DIY works well, but planning for the final disposition of your estate is not one of them.
You will no longer be around when your family learns that your downloaded documents do not address your loved ones’ specific circumstances or North Carolina’s current probate laws. Without the legal knowledge required to draft a will properly, set up a trust, write medical directives and prepare associated estate planning documents, a DIY estate plan is a recipe for disaster.
Is Online Estate Planning Ever A Good Idea?
Proper estate planning protects the individual’s dependents, finances and other assets in the event the individual dies or becomes incapacitated. Proper estate planning ensures that the individual’s wishes are carried out when he or she can no longer do so, while minimizing taxes and other costs.
Online estate planning offers generic legal instruments required for disposal of an estate, along with answers to some frequently asked questions to address common variables when completing the documents. But the more variables there are, such as multiple marriages with minor-age children or real estate holdings in multiple states, the less suitable an online form is to your estate planning needs.
If you do not have underage children and the total value of your estate would not be subject to estate taxes, you may be able to complete a will, an advanced medical directive and a power of attorney designation online to ensure legal disposition of your estate.
But if your final wishes differ from the most ordinary distribution of assets, you will likely find the cookie-cutter plans available online do not meet your needs. An experienced estate planning lawyer can help guide you through the process.
Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid — Online or Off
An estate planning lawyer at can help you think through your plans and the tax implications. More importantly, he or she will work with you in person and get an understanding of your long-term goals and craft a plan to help you achieve them.
An experienced estate and wills attorney can help you avoid mistakes, such as the following scenarios:
Having an outdated estate plan. Many people congratulate themselves for having done their estate planning, and then forget all about it. But a will needs to be updated as your children grow up, marry and have children of their own, or if you divorce and remarry. We suggest reviewing your estate plan at least every four years and at the time of major life events, such as any birth, death, marriage or divorce in the family.
Revising a will requires more than crossing out a sentence or section, or adding information and initialing the changes. An altered will must go through the same validation process as a new will.
Not coordinating a will and a trust. Establishing a living trust is a method of keeping your estate out of probate, the process in which the court distributes the estate’s property after the owner’s death. Probate, or estate administration, can be expensive and time consuming, and leaves final decisions about the distribution of your assets up to the probate judge. When you place the estate’s assets in a trust, you name a beneficiary to take over the trust and distribute assets according to your will. The documents guiding your trust and your will should be aligned to ensure there is no mistaking what you want.
Failing to name a successor or contingent beneficiaries. If you name just one beneficiary on an account and he or she dies, then there is no successor to receive the account’s assets. The assets could then go to a person you did not want to have them, or they could end up in probate. Similarly, primary and contingent beneficiary designations on IRAs, 401(k) accounts, company insurance or pensions, and other accounts need to be up to date, and the estate’s assets need to be titled correctly across plans and documents.
Not establishing decision proxies. Not designating a loved one to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated is a major mistake. These controlling documents are known as living wills, medical directives, health care proxies or advance health care directives. A related mistake is not designating a financial power of attorney, someone to pay your bills and debts and otherwise look after your money if you are incapable. These documents must be kept up to date. Your circumstances or your relationship with a designee may have changed since you signed the document.
Ignoring Medicaid requirements. Many people wait too long to plan for the costs of a nursing home or other long-term care, and then try to apply for Medicaid. Medicaid does not help you if you have assets of your own that can be used to pay for long-term care, even if property must be liquidated. If undertaken long enough before the time when such care may be needed, Medicaid planning can help you secure your assets while meeting the qualification requirements for the program.
Peace of Mind with an Estate Planning Lawyer
The best way to ensure that your estate plan will achieve your goals is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you reside in Raleigh or elsewhere in the Triangle area, we can help you minimize your tax liability, make sure your assets are distributed the way that you wish and save your heirs from having to devote time and money to fix the unintended consequences of a homemade will.
Estate planning is an opportunity. It’s an advantage to have the ability to make plans to care for yourself and for those you love before these decisions pass to someone else. No matter how complex your situation is, the attorneys at Brady Cobin Law Group have the knowledge and resources to assist you. Contact us today about starting your estate plan.