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To Hire an Estate Planning Attorney or Do It Yourself?

Estate planning is an important process to protect your financial future and ensure the smooth transfer of assets to your loved ones. I have been asked many times if individuals need to hire an estate planning attorney or can they use a do-it-yourself (DIY) service. Here are a few advantages and drawbacks of each option to help you decide what you need based on your unique needs and circumstances. 

Expertise:

  • Estate Planning Attorney
    • Pros:  Attorneys bring years of knowledge and local experience to the table.  An attorney can provide personalized advice and navigate the very human element of the emotions in planning for illness and death.  With a holistic approach an attorney can create a comprehensive plan tailored to your specific goals and needs.
    • Cons:  The cost of hiring an attorney may be higher to effectuate the planning, as reflects their expertise and individual attention.
  • DIY Service
    • Pros:  DIY services and websites are typically more cost-effective as they provide templates and guidelines for completing various forms.
    • Cons:  DIY services do not perform legal analysis and individual guidance; this can lead to oversights, unintentional beneficiaries, and errors in the documents.  Additionally, just because an online template says it was created by an attorney in your state, and it may comply with the state laws, it may not include important provisions that your local jurisdiction expects to see when administered.

Complexity of Planning:

  • Estate Planning Attorney
    • Pros:  Attorneys are necessary for planning needs like establishing and funding trusts, minimizing tax liabilities, and addressing family situations such as blended families, long term partnerships, and more.  The attorney will also help plan for multiple likely outcomes and make sure the plan works in the event any important person to the plan predeceases the plan maker.
    • Cons:  For a simple plan the cost may outweigh perceived benefit.
  • DIY Service
    • Pros:  DIY services may be suitable for straightforward planning like a married couple with only joint children where everyone gets along.
    • Cons:  DIY services are difficult to customize for any tax planning and will not guide an individual to make sure all assets work together for the plan.

Ongoing Support:

  • Estate Planning Attorney
    • Pros:  Estate Planning attorneys are there to offer support and address questions; this allows individuals to later update and revise some or all of an estate plan as life happens and the people important to the plan might change.
    • Cons:  There may be a charge for future legal support or new documents.
  • DIY Service
    • Pros:  DIY services may provide updates and templates for amendments, but the level of ongoing support is generally limited. 
    • Cons:  If someone has used a template they may need to seek legal advice for updates or changes and it may cost more in administration to correct any errors from the DIY service or errors in execution of the documents.

These are just a few of the areas of comparison for whether an estate planning attorney or DIY service is the right path for your estate planning.  In general, the complexity of the plan and the people involved in the plan are factors to seriously consider when making a decision.  Note that while many DIY services might work for a first marriage, only joint children, untaxable estate; if there are any non-joint children, previous spouses, retirement accounts with income tax ramifications for beneficiaries, real estate outside of primary residence, partial ownership of assets, or taxable estates the cost of working with an attorney to get a simple and effective plan can outweigh the mess left behind for your beneficiaries to clean up. Balancing cost considerations with the potential benefits of legal expertise is key to making an informed decision that best meets your estate planning needs.