Search Articles

Find Attorneys

The Hazards of Do-it-Yourself Estate Planning

  • April 21st, 2021

Many websites offer customized, do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents.  Although such products are convenient, using them could create serious and expensive legal problems for heirs. 

These digital services appear to offer a cost-effective and easy alternative to visiting an estate planning or elder law attorney. But is online estate planning worth the convenience and initial savings? While online services might work fine if you have little or no property, small savings or investments, and a traditional family tree, anyone whose needs are not simple should not try to create an estate plan without the help of an attorney. 

Local Elder Law Attorneys in Your City

Elder Law Attorney

Firm Name
City, State

Elder Law Attorney

Firm Name
City, State

Elder Law Attorney

Firm Name
City, State

And you'll likely need a lawyer to definitively determine whether or not your needs are indeed simple. Do you have an estate that is taxable under state or federal law? Do you own significant amounts of tax-deferred retirement plans? Do you know how to fund a revocable trust? Is there anything about your estate that is unusual, such as having children from a previous marriage or a disabled child? If you have any questions about your estate plan, you need to see a professional. 

The following are some examples of what can happen if you try to create an estate plan without the help of an attorney:

  • Using an online generic will, a Florida woman listed several possessions and bank accounts that she intended to go to her brother. After writing the will, the woman inherited additional money and property. However, the woman did not have a "residuary clause" in the original will to say where additional assets should go, and she never revised the will to account for this new property. After she died, her brother argued he should be entitled to her entire estate, but her nieces countered that the estate should pass intestate (under the laws of her state as if she had died without a will). The case wound its way through the courts, with Florida's supreme court finally ruling that because the will had no residuary clause or general bequests that could include the inherited property, the after-acquired property would pass under Florida’s laws of intestacy. This meant the brother was not the sole beneficiary.  One of the justices called the case "a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance."Aldrich v. Basile (Fla., No. SC11-2147, March 27, 2014)
  • A Massachusetts man used a pre-packaged will form to leave his home to his wife and his four grown children, the product of an earlier marriage. The problem was that the will didn't give the wife the option to remain in the house for the rest of her life.  A court case ensued because the children, who possessed the majority interest in the property, could have legally forced the wife to move.  
  • A Pennsylvania man wanted his estate to go to only two of his five children. He wrote his own will, giving his pickup truck to his daughter and his summer house to his son. He also wrote in the will that he was intentionally leaving out his other three children. The problem was that the man did not specify what to do with the remainder of his estate. He died leaving an estate of $217,000. While he probably intended for that money to go to the two children he didn’t disinherit, because the will had no residuary clause, the remainder of the man’s estate passed under the state law that specifies who inherits when there is no will. This meant the estate was divided between all five children. (In Re: Estate of George Zeevering, No. 316-2012, Nov. 7, 2012)
  • The company LegalZoom, one of the most prominent sellers of do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents, settled a class action lawsuit brought an unhappy customer in California. A niece helped her uncle prepare a will and trust using LegalZoom. The niece believed that the documents they created would be legally binding and that if they encountered any problems, the company's customer service department would resolve them. The niece could not transfer any of her uncle's assets into the trust because the financial institutions that held his money refused to accept the LegalZoom documents as valid. She had to hire an estate planning attorney to fix the problems, and the attorney also discovered that the will LegalZoom created had not been properly witnessed. All this cost the uncle’s estate thousands of dollars. (Webster v. LegalZoom Inc., No. BC438637, Oct. 1, 2014)

The irony is that using a boilerplate will form in these cases not only frustrated the decedents’ testamentary intent, but ultimately cost their estates far more than a simple consultation with an estate planning or elder law attorney would have. 

Contact your attorney to create your plan. To find an attorney near you, go here: https://www.elderlawanswers.com/elder-law-attorneys.


Last Modified: 04/21/2021
Learn the secrets of estate planning from an expert
ADVERTISEMENT
Medicaid 101
What Medicaid Covers

In addition to nursing home care, Medicaid may cover home care and some care in an assisted living facility. Coverage in your state may depend on waivers of federal rules.

READ MORE
How to Qualify for Medicaid

To be eligible for Medicaid long-term care, recipients must have limited incomes and no more than $2,000 (in most states). Special rules apply for the home and other assets.

READ MORE
Medicaid’s Protections for Spouses

Spouses of Medicaid nursing home residents have special protections to keep them from becoming impoverished.

READ MORE
What Medicaid Covers

In addition to nursing home care, Medicaid may cover home care and some care in an assisted living facility. Coverage in your state may depend on waivers of federal rules.

READ MORE
How to Qualify for Medicaid

To be eligible for Medicaid long-term care, recipients must have limited incomes and no more than $2,000 (in most states). Special rules apply for the home and other assets.

READ MORE
Medicaid’s Protections for Spouses

Spouses of Medicaid nursing home residents have special protections to keep them from becoming impoverished.

READ MORE
Medicaid Planning Strategies

Careful planning for potentially devastating long-term care costs can help protect your estate, whether for your spouse or for your children.

READ MORE
Estate Recovery: Can Medicaid Take My House After I’m Gone?

If steps aren't taken to protect the Medicaid recipient's house from the state’s attempts to recover benefits paid, the house may need to be sold.

READ MORE
Help Qualifying and Paying for Medicaid, Or Avoiding Nursing Home Care

There are ways to handle excess income or assets and still qualify for Medicaid long-term care, and programs that deliver care at home rather than in a nursing home.

READ MORE
Are Adult Children Responsible for Their Parents’ Care?

Most states have laws on the books making adult children responsible if their parents can't afford to take care of themselves.

READ MORE
Applying for Medicaid

Applying for Medicaid is a highly technical and complex process, and bad advice can actually make it more difficult to qualify for benefits.

READ MORE
Alternatives to Medicaid

Medicare's coverage of nursing home care is quite limited. For those who can afford it and who can qualify for coverage, long-term care insurance is the best alternative to Medicaid.

READ MORE
ElderLaw 101
Estate Planning

Distinguish the key concepts in estate planning, including the will, the trust, probate, the power of attorney, and how to avoid estate taxes.

READ MORE
Grandchildren

Learn about grandparents’ visitation rights and how to avoid tax and public benefit issues when making gifts to grandchildren.

READ MORE
Guardianship/Conservatorship

Understand when and how a court appoints a guardian or conservator for an adult who becomes incapacitated, and how to avoid guardianship.

READ MORE
Health Care Decisions

We need to plan for the possibility that we will become unable to make our own medical decisions. This may take the form of a health care proxy, a medical directive, a living will, or a combination of these.

READ MORE
Estate Planning

Distinguish the key concepts in estate planning, including the will, the trust, probate, the power of attorney, and how to avoid estate taxes.

READ MORE
Grandchildren

Learn about grandparents’ visitation rights and how to avoid tax and public benefit issues when making gifts to grandchildren.

READ MORE
Guardianship/Conservatorship

Understand when and how a court appoints a guardian or conservator for an adult who becomes incapacitated, and how to avoid guardianship.

READ MORE
Health Care Decisions

We need to plan for the possibility that we will become unable to make our own medical decisions. This may take the form of a health care proxy, a medical directive, a living will, or a combination of these.

READ MORE
Long-Term Care Insurance

Understand the ins and outs of insurance to cover the high cost of nursing home care, including when to buy it, how much to buy, and which spouse should get the coverage.

READ MORE
Medicare

Learn who qualifies for Medicare, what the program covers, all about Medicare Advantage, and how to supplement Medicare’s coverage.

READ MORE
Retirement Planning

We explain the five phases of retirement planning, the difference between a 401(k) and an IRA, types of investments, asset diversification, the required minimum distribution rules, and more.

READ MORE
Senior Living

Find out how to choose a nursing home or assisted living facility, when to fight a discharge, the rights of nursing home residents, all about reverse mortgages, and more.

READ MORE
Social Security

Get a solid grounding in Social Security, including who is eligible, how to apply, spousal benefits, the taxation of benefits, how work affects payments, and SSDI and SSI.

READ MORE
Special Needs Planning

Learn how a special needs trust can preserve assets for a person with disabilities without jeopardizing Medicaid and SSI, and how to plan for when caregivers are gone.

READ MORE
Veterans Benefits

Explore benefits for older veterans, including the VA’s disability pension benefit, aid and attendance, and long-term care coverage for veterans and surviving spouses.

READ MORE