Do-It-Yourself Dangers: Where Self-Planning Can Go Wrong

Programs and websites that advertise how easy it is to do your own estate planning minimize the real risks of trying to handle these important documents yourself. Your estate planning documents outline what you wish to happen in the future, but small mistakes inside the document can render them invalid. That's the primary reason why you should never go it alone when it comes to estate planning.

Too many people make the mistake of thinking that even the most basic of estate planning documents, the will, can be done on their own. A will is usually the cornerstone of your estate planning and errors inside it can cause numerous problems in the future.

Generic documents take the "one size fits all" approach to creating a will. Usually these documents can be purchased for a smaller fee than what an attorney would charge to draft a document, but there's no guarantee these documents will be considered valid in the future. Therefore, any cost savings can end up costing your heirs big time.

There are simply too many opportunities for mistakes in these do it yourself documents, whether it has to do with their working or complying with the necessary formalities of signing a will. While those who support documents you create on your own are helpful in the sense that they promote the importance of creating a will, that's where the good intentions end and the path gets paved for disaster.

More often than not, these documents where you fill in the blanks leave room for error because an individual completing it might forget about other assets he or she owns. If a residuary clause is skipped, for example, there's no way that your loved ones will know what you want done with any assets that are left over after taxes, creditors, and estate expenses are paid. This is particularly important in cases where an individual wants to avoid leaving anything to one or more beneficiaries. If the will isn't thoughtfully put together or determined to be valid, the estate could wind up going through probate anyways. In probate, those individuals who you intended to disinherit may end up getting your assets.

Even the smallest of mistakes can have major ramifications when you attempt to put together a will on your own. Typos like decimal points instead of commas or vice versa can leave much different sums of money to loved ones than what you intended. If you skip a box that says "insert name here", the beneficiary you intended to receive a large sum of money may never see it at all.

One of the biggest reasons that do it yourself is a bad idea has to do with state laws and regulations governing execution. These laws vary from state to state, but generic documents don't often take account of this (or regular updates in local and state requirements), leaving your will prone to a contest in the future or a determination that it's not valid at all. There are far more dangers than benefits lurking in the do-it-yourself will world.