Updated: Jun 22
With all of the media about “digital wills” and “online estate planning” it could be tempting to think you can do your estate planning yourself, online. And, maybe you can. But, if you do, you need to know the potential pitfalls. Online estate planning could be a big trap for the unwary and actually leave your family worse off than if you had done nothing at all.
First and foremost, before you do any of your own online estate planning, it’s critical to understand your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and what the state would say should happen to your assets if something happens to you. You see, whether or not you do estate planning, Georgia has a plan for your assets if you become incapacitated or when you die. You need to know what that plan is, so you know whether or not you want to change it.
A good start on getting educated is this one hour training with my mentor, financial and legal expert Ali Katz, which clarifies what you can and should do yourself, for free, online. The easy-to-watch training gives you access to a free online tool that you can use to create one thing that would be incredibly important for your family: a “treasure map” listing everything you own, where it is, and how your loved ones can access it. I call this treasure map a Personal Resource Map. Creating your own Personal Resource Map will be a true gift for the people you love and can be an incredibly enlightening experience for you.
But Don’t I Need a Will and Can’t I Just Do It Online?
Every week I talk to at least one person who says they want to talk about making a Will. The funny thing about estate planning is that the document everyone thinks they need the most actually does the least.
Every adult does need SOME form of estate planning. A will is a good place to start because it allows you to say who will be in charge and who will get what you own. However, if intestacy law (the default) would have given your things and authority to the same people you would name anyway, then an online will wouldn't provide much value to you.
A will does not keep your family out of court. Even worse, if it is drafted improperly, it could require the person you’ve named to handle things to get bonded, which is an insurance policy that you pay to guarantee that they won't do anything wrong with your money. These can be hard for a person who has a less than stellar credit score. If the person you named can't get a bond, then the court has to appoint someone else, and that can be expensive.
This is just one example of how preparing documents online, can make things more expensive for the people you love. Unfortunately, none of the online document drafting platforms I've looked at mention this risk. So, yes, you can do your own will online, but at what potential cost for the people you love?
The Problem with Online Wills
Do it yourself estate planning (and even many plans created by lawyers) usually include three basic documents: will, financial power of attorney, and advance health care directive. Simply completing these documents does not guarantee your estate will be managed as simply, affordably, and effectively as you want.
For instance—are you sure there isn’t some missing consideration that could lead to turmoil as your family tries to figure it out? Did you know that most family fights don’t happen over money, but over lack of clarity? Have you taken into account all extended family members, including stepchildren and ex-spouses? What will be done with all the personal, sentimental items you want to pass on to your children? I've seen as many fights over mom's sentimental items as over mom's money.
There have been far too many scenarios where seniors, even those who had some estate planning done, get caught in the court system or even declared incompetent, and then have court-appointed guardians named, who then drain their accounts. In many cases, their assets are taken before they can get to their kids. You don’t want that to happen to you or your family, right? If not, a do-it-yourself will won't keep that from happening.
What about making sure your family knows what you have and where it is? An online will won’t tell them that. The last figure I saw showed that the Georgia Department of Unclaimed Property had over $2 billion of assets in it because people passed away without their loved ones knowing where to find their money.
So how can you be sure you’ve got everything covered, legally? With online wills and do it yourself estate planning, you wouldn’t even know what questions to ask.
Do you know anyone whose relationship with their family members suffered because they ended up in a major fight after a loved one passed away? The consequences, financial and emotional, are devastating. And, it’s all unnecessary.
Even if there are attorneys on staff do they get to know you and your family dynamics enough to spot the real issues that could arise. No, they don't. They are focused on a one-size-fits-all solution and easy answers to complex issues. Do it yourself estate planning is risky. It might be better than nothing, but it also may be worse. And the biggest problem is it won’t be until after you are gone that your loved ones find out how bad it may be. If you want to do the right thing by the people you love, you have three options for how to get started:
Book a Family Wealth Planning Session with me. It’s normally $750, but if you call and tell us you read this article and commit to doing a bit of homework ahead of time, or book your appointment online, I’ll waive that Planning Session fee.
If you aren’t quite ready to call yet, and want to learn a little more first, go to https://bit.ly/Webinar-PersonalResourceMap and watch the one-hour training there. Create your own Map and, then, if you decide you do need counsel from a lawyer, book a Family Wealth Planning Session with me at that point. If you send me your completed map, I’ll not only waive the Family Wealth Planning Session fee, but I’ll also give you a $250 credit towards any planning you need. Be sure to mention you attended the training, and that you want to claim your $1000 of legal services.
If you want to talk for 15 minutes before your Family Wealth Planning Session, call my office and book that time here: 678-340-3223.