How to avoid estate planning mistakes which could be costly to you and your heirs
By Barbara Craig, Attorney at Law
Estate planning mistake #4: using an estate planning kit, form, or online program
One of the main reasons people even think about preparing estate planning documents is to make sure that their assets transfer to the family members and loved ones that they specify, and to avoid the probate process. Each state has specific requirements which must be meet to ensure that probate is avoided and property transfer is executed correctly.
An estate planning kit or online program is a one-size-fits-all solution. I have never seen two estates that are identical so it’s hard to believe that a kit or online plan can meet the specific needs of the person creating an estate plan. Plus, you are responsible for making sure all the steps are properly taken to ensure probate is avoided and your plan is in effect when you die. If you are not informed of and completely understand these complex requirements, how can you be sure that your plan has been documented correctly?
While the fees for a kit or online program are less than having an attorney prepare the documents for you, when you hire an experienced estate planning attorney to write your estate plan, you are working with an expert who knows the requirements and can make sure everything is in order. The amount of money spent with an attorney is certainly going to be less expensive than the probate costs if you did not prepare your plan correctly, or did nothing at all.
Estate planning mistake #5: hiring the wrong attorney to prepare your estate plan
All licensed attorneys are permitted to prepare estate planning documents, but only an experienced estate planning attorney has the expertise to prepare a plan which suits your needs and meets your goals. Hiring a family law attorney or criminal defense attorney is great if you have a child custody case or have been arrested for an alleged crime. But those attorneys probably have rarely, if ever, reviewed the details of a living trust, special needs trust, or other estate planning device.
Some attorneys who offer estate planning services also have fairly large probate practices. Probate is expensive in California, mainly because the fees attorneys are permitted to charge in such cases are relatively high. Because these attorneys handle a significant number of probate cases, it stands to reason that they may not be as focused on proper estate planning, which pays considerably less than probate work. A large probate practice is not always indicative that an attorney isn’t the best choice to prepare your estate plan. But it’s a factor which certainly should be taken into consideration when evaluating the qualifications of estate planning attorneys and deciding which one to hire.