Do you need a Lawyer to do your Estate Plan?
The simple answer is yes, the more accurate answer is maybe. Many of the documents contained in a classic estate plan can be filled out using online programs for a relatively low cost. If you have a simple situation - for instance, 1 house, 1 child, 1-2 bank/brokerage accounts, and of course, complete faith in the ability of said child to manage your assets, this option might suit you. For persons with a slightly more complicated situation, however, professionals agree that securing an experienced Estate Planning attorney is the safest way to go. It is also the least expensive route if your assets total more than $150,000. If your assets are not secured in a trust (part of your estate plan), your property must go through Probate. Do It Yourself Estate Planning is better than no estate plan at all, but it's a risky proposition when you weigh the 1 pro (low cost) against the many risks.
In my experience as a Contra Costa County Estate Planning lawyer who frequently works in Probate and Trust litigation, I see the consequences of haphazard estate plans on a daily basis. Most of my litigation cases involve a lack of estate plan, while others exist because they were done by an inexperienced lawyer, or put together by the person who has passed. I have one client presently who hand wrote their own will based on internet examples. Due to several oversights on his part, his wife and daughter (who is an attorney as well), now have to give a portion of their inheritance to court fees and attorneys fees.
Specific language is also important. This is true for all of the documents in a typical estate plan. Your Trust, Your Will, Your Power of Attorney, and Your Healthcare Directive are Yours. They should properly reflect your wishes in a legally sound manner. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to craft the wording specifically for your family and its unique dynamics.
In addition, the documents in your estate plan should have a high degree of specificity. When a lack of specificity exists, your will and/or estate is left open to interpretation. Different interpretations lead to possible litigation and high attorney fees. A good Estate Planning Attorney can put your mind at ease by ensuring all of your bases are covered.
The cost of a complete Estate Plan in Contra Costa County runs between $2-$3,000. The attorney fees of an estate going through Probate, of a $1 million dollar estate for example, are above $20,000. Fees go up as the asset value increases. The cost of litigation can certainly be much more, but is best avoided by a legally sound Estate Plan tailored specifically for your needs.
I offer a free 30 minute consultation for all clients from my Elder Law office in downtown Walnut Creek. Call 925-322-1763 to get started.