Instead of talking to an estate planning attorney, many people choose a fill-in-the-blanks estate plan by finding documents online. They fill out the PDFs or Word document templates they find, sign them, and move on with their lives. As experienced estate planners know, this could be a big mistake.
False sense of security
Signing a bunch of documents you found using a search engine may give you a sense of security. You feel good knowing that you took a concrete step towards planning for the future, and it only took a few minutes! Unfortunately, the documents you signed could cause some problems in your future. When you locate estate planning documents online, you have limited or no method of verifying their content. You do not know if they will work in California, and you do not know if you should have chosen a different type of estate structure for your situation.
New or undiscovered assets not mentioned in the documents
After you make your fill-in-the-blanks plan, your life could change dramatically. You could acquire new assets that the documents do not discuss, you could forget that you own some assets and omit them from your plan, or you could have a major life change that is not mentioned in the documents. Sometimes, after someone passes away their family learns about assets that they had no idea existed. Other times, people expecting a windfall learn that due to a technicality they will not inherit an item of property.
Misunderstandings and legal errors
All too often, people fill out and sign documents that they do not read in full. Hidden in the fine print is some important sentence that totally changes the document’s importance to them or its impact on their lives. Further, estate planning and probate use a lot of legal jargon that some people do not look up or misunderstand. There could be legal implications far beyond what it says in a document of which non-lawyers are not aware
Estate planning and probate implicate a lot of tax issues, both for the living and for the deceased person’s estate. People without tax experience may not realize how or why signing a single PDF could cost them thousands of dollars in the future. They may not find this out until it is too late. Fortunately, some estate planning attorneys have extensive experience on advising clients on tax issues and tax education (including degrees like a Master of Laws in Taxation (“LLM”)).
Do you want to look beyond fill-in-the-blank estate planning forms? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience and her LLM degree will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.