I was driving into the office today and heard a radio commercial for a Do-it-Yourself website that allows you to draft your own estate planning documents (typically a living trust and corresponding will) without having to pay money to an attorney to draft it for you. It sounds great and I do not question the quality of this particular site and other reputable ones like it. However, anyone who takes the time to prepare a written estate plan would be best served to discuss the plan with an experienced estate planning attorney before executing it.

“Why?” you may ask. Because estate plans are particular to the individuals and/or couples who have them. Each one has to be specifically tailored to that person or couple. Many unintended consequences may arise from the creation of an estate plan. These can be avoided by consulting an experienced attorney. A good estate plan is one that will give you control of your assets during your lifetime, allow you to dispose of your assets upon your death according to your wishes, allow your heirs to avoid estate taxes and most importantly, allow this to all happen with minimum legal conflict among your relatives and friends.

I have litigated numerous estate disputes. They are expensive and emotionally draining for the litigants. In the vast majority of the cases I have handled, litigation could have been avoided entirely by the use of an experienced estate planning attorney at the time the written estate plan was prepared. Some of these cases involved an ambiguity in the estate documents that would have been spotted by an experienced attorney that discussed the estate plan with their client. Some involved an unintended provision that allowed one spouse (more specifically, the wife’s heirs) to have a legal advantage over the other spouse (more specifically, the husband’s heirs). I have had several cases where the people who created the estate plan selected the wrong person to act as their successor trustee.

Estate planning attorneys do more than just draft wills and trusts. The good ones ask questions – lots of them. The answer to one question leads to another specific question and so on until the attorney has the information necessary to properly advise his or her clients. Good advice leads to good decisions and good decisions during the preparation of an estate plan, along with the careful review of the plan by an experienced attorney, can save your heirs thousands in litigation expenses down the road in addition to the emotional drain of an inter-family dispute. These services are typically not very expensive, and are certainly less than the cost of litigating over a defective estate plan.

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About Daniel E. Katz

Daniel E. Katz is a Senior Attorney with the Riverside law firm of Reid & Hellyer. He practices Business Law, Real Estate, Writs & Appreals and Litigation. He is a member of the Riverside County Bar Association.

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