I’m Michael Jenkins and as an estate planning attorney in San Diego we clash with this one all the time. “Why should I come see you in as an estate planning attorney when I can do my estate plan at home in three minutes for dirt cheap and I’ll tell you.
It’s because attorneys look at those DIY and low-cost plans as a revenue stream because they’re more likely to fail and when they do the attorney will make much more money in probate court than they ever would helping you set up your estate plan ahead of time.
Why are they more likely to fail? There are three big reasons.
Number one is around execution. Many people think you just print the document, sign your name, put it on a shelf somewhere and you’re done and that is absolutely incorrect if that’s all you do. Your family will end up in probate court and that trust will not really help you avoid it.
The second reason is they are general documents, and they have to be by nature. If you’re doing a high volume practice you have to have a document that applies to as many people as possible. Anytime you have an overly general document like that you invite people to interpret things different ways. Anytime we interpret things different ways we’re inviting arguments and we may end up in probate court.
The third is around mistake. It may not be a mistake from a legal perspective but it’s a mistake from your intent and what I mean there is you have to understand that estate planning is an extremely nuanced area of law. Two words or, in some cases one word, in the wrong place of a document can completely flip your intent on its head. In some cases disinheriting your kids or disinheriting your grandkids. Those words, something as simple as “free of” in the wrong place or “surviving” in the wrong place, can completely change what your intent was but you may have no idea what it means unless you’ve actually sat down with in an estate planning attorney.
If a plan fails because of poor execution then we’re probably just into routine probate and in that case the attorney that’s handling that routine probate is going to get a percentage of the estate. It’s going to take the kids longer but the attorney is going to get a percentage of the estate which would be thousands of dollars more than what they would ever collect setting up an estate plan up front. If the plan fails because it’s too general and we created some fighting or because there was a mistake and now there’s a question of intent with that kind of litigation in probate court the fees aren’t capped so it wouldn’t be unusual for entire inheritances to go towards attorney fees because of a failed DIY or low-cost plan.
The bad thing too is if it was DIY or a non-attorney plan, your kids or your beneficiaries have no one to collect against for a mistake. If you did it, well, you’re at fault and your kids will bear the cost. If an attorney makes that kind of mistake, they’re going to make it right or they’re going to pay the kids or the beneficiaries personally or out of their malpractice insurance.
That’s why DIY plans are your worst enemy and an attorney’s best friend. They’re going to make more money down the road taking something through probate if it doesn’t get set up right the first time.
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