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Should You Prepare Your Own Estate Planning Documents?

A wise person once said, “he who represents himself has a fool for a client”. For estate planning? Yes. There are exceptions where the elder’s situation is so simple that she can get by without an attorney and create her own “estate plan”.

For example, an 83-year-old widow living in senior housing with no assets other than $1,500 in a checking account that is titled jointly with her 55-year-old niece. Once you get above that level of simplicity things get tricky, particularly where there are any of the following situations: second marriage, ownership of real estate or substantial assets, concerns about asset protection and vulnerability to care costs and the potential to transfer assets. Other areas that support the need for professional involvement is retirement savings that have never been taxed, beneficiary designations, life insurance, long term care insurance and a disabled child.

Here are some examples of do-it yourself created problems: A Power of Attorney obtained off the internet that neglected to include gifting language. We were forced to go to court to get approval under a Conservatorship to create a Medicaid allowable Trust. A Will which had two witnesses but failed to have a notary. That led to court delay and more work and legal fees. A Health Care Proxy that named an agent but no alternate. The Proxy died. We had to go court for guardianship because the elder was incompetent at that point to name a successor. An elder who named a disabled child as beneficiary on her brokerage account. That jeopardized the child’s government programs. It can be dangerous to cut corners in estate planning. I don’t try to fix plumbing problems in my house. You should probably not prepare your own estate plan.

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