As a means to avoid the subject of dying, or maybe just to avoid lawyers, many people do no estate planning at all, or try to use a DIY source to write their own estate plan. If you feel like the whole thing is too complicated or may somehow put a hex on you, rest assured that spending some time to do it right is worth it!
Approximately 55% of adults in America have done no estate planning (they have no Last Will, Trust, or any dispositive plan), and for people under the age of 35 that percentage increases to an estimated 92%! If you are one of those people without a plan, please consider the consequences before it’s too late!
If you have no Will or Trust to control the distribution of your estate, then at death the Laws of Intestacy will govern your affairs. This body of law constitutes a “default” estate plan written by the State for everyone who dies without taking care of it during life.
The Laws of Intestacy create different outcomes for different people depending upon their situation when they die. For example, in Virginia there are different results for those who are single (whether they were ever married or not), those in a second marriage, those who have children or not, those who’s spouse had children that were not their biological or adopted children. In my experience, most people would not ever want their estate distributed the way the Laws of Intestacy force it to go.
The do-it-yourself, or DIY, sort of planning is very appealing to some who want to have something in place and feel like they can handle it with a “trusted source” for pre-written documents. But be warned, while I believe every person should have an estate plan, I have worked with some DIY documents which have created a legal nightmare for their loved ones after death. In some cases, the DIY documents were legally invalid altogether. In other cases, the primary distribution of the estate went to the wrong person (or so it appeared from conflicting beneficiary designations, which over-ride the Last Will).
Often when I sit down with a client, they will have a preconceived idea of how to achieve their desired goals. But, a significant role of the attorney is to spot issues and help the client realize their goals in the most cost-effective and simplest manner possible. Attorneys are sometimes accused of making mountains out of mole hills, but I think that attorneys actually just blow the smoke off the mountain that already existed.
Simple is good - when it is done right. But, don’t make the mistake of creating a DIY legal mess for simple or doing nothing as the simple way. In both cases, simple is simply a potential disaster waiting to happen. Speak to an attorney that practices estate planning for guidance and help today!