Pitfalls of DIY Estate Plans

By Joshua Berkley

Writing your own estate plan can seem appealing due to the potential cost savings and control over the process. However, there are significant dangers and pitfalls that can arise from a DIY estate plan:

  1. Legal Errors: Estate planning involves navigating complex legal requirements. Misunderstanding or misapplying the law can result in invalid documents, which can lead to unintended consequences, such as your wishes not being honored or assets being distributed contrary to your intentions.
  2. Improper Execution: Estate planning documents must be executed according to specific legal formalities. Failure to properly sign, witness, or notarize these documents can render them invalid.
  3. Inadequate or Outdated Provisions: A DIY plan might not account for all possible scenarios or changes in your life circumstances, such as births, deaths, marriages, or divorces. This can leave your estate plan outdated and ineffective.
  4. Tax Implications: Estate planning has significant tax implications. Without proper guidance, you may not take full advantage of tax-saving opportunities, resulting in a larger tax burden on your estate and heirs.
  5. Overlooking Important Details: Professional estate planners consider a wide range of issues that non-experts might overlook, such as creditor protection, special needs of beneficiaries, and the management of digital assets.
  6. Conflict and Litigation: Poorly drafted or ambiguous estate planning documents can lead to disputes among your heirs. This can result in costly and time-consuming litigation, which can erode the value of your estate.
  7. Failure to Plan for Incapacity: Estate planning isn’t just about distributing your assets after death; it also involves planning for incapacity. Without proper documents like powers of attorney or healthcare directives, your wishes regarding medical and financial decisions might not be followed if you become incapacitated.
  8. Not Updating Your Plan: Estate plans need regular review and updates to reflect changes in your life and in the law. DIY plans are often created and then forgotten, leading to outdated provisions that no longer reflect your wishes or comply with current laws.
  9. Overly Simplistic Solutions: Online templates and DIY kits often offer one-size-fits-all solutions that might not address the complexities of your unique situation. Estate planning is highly personal and requires customization to ensure all your needs and goals are met.
  10. Misunderstanding of Beneficiary Designations: Beneficiary designations on assets like retirement accounts and life insurance policies can override your will. Without professional advice, you might inadvertently create conflicts between these designations and your overall estate plan.

To mitigate these risks, it’s advisable to consult with an estate planning attorney who can provide expert guidance and ensure that your estate plan is comprehensive, legally sound, and tailored to your specific needs and goals.

About the Author
Josh Berkley is an attorney and owner at Berkley Oliver PLLC who helps individuals implement plans to protect their assets and their loved ones. Josh focuses his practice in the areas of Estate Planning, Probate, and Elder Law.  From assisting young parents in making a plan to provide for their children, to helping senior clients qualify for Medicaid, Josh works with clients to create estate plans and life plans tailored to each person’s specific goals. He also helps clients with a wide variety of important legal documents such Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Surrogate Designations, and Living Wills. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Josh here.