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Should I Do My Own Estate Planning?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

When talking about Estate Planning, I frequently hear people say "I can just do it on my own."  While that technically is true, today we want to talk about why its not advisable.  Having any form of a Will is better than having no Will.  This is a fact.  However, using your Will as a do it yourself project can be highly dangerous. 

One of the benefits you get when you sit down with an Estate Planning attorney is that attorney's expertise.  A good Estate Planning attorney is going to spend the majority of the consultation asking questions.  I sat down with a client last Monday.  I started asking questions and about 20 minutes into the meeting, the clients told me they hadn't even thought about those things.  The experience that an Estate Planning attorney brings to the table allows him to apply prior cases to your facts.  Of course things may be very different for you than from John and Jane Doe.  However, the attorney can use what happened to John and Jane Doe to protect you from the same thing happening.  If you were filling out a template form online, you wouldn't have someone asking you those questions which can lead to trouble in the future.  It is called the Practice of Law for a reason.  The more you do it, the better at it you get.  It always makes me nervous when someone who may have a much more complicated situation than they realize decides to do it on their own, potentially neglecting red flags that an Estate Planning Attorney would see.

Another concern of drafting your Will on your own is that a Will is a highly technical document.  Although Georgia law can be considered rather liberal in what constitutes a Will, there are still formalities which have to be followed in order for a Will to be valid.  When you retain an Estate Planning attorney to draft your Will for you, he will most likely conduct a signing ceremony with you and witnesses.  In Georgia, you must have two witnesses sign the Will.  Each witness must sign the Will in your presence.    Additionally, who the witnesses are can have an effect on the Will.  Can you use your sister as a witness to the Will?  Sure, as long as you aren't giving anything to her under the Will.  If you intended to give something to her under your Will, that portion of the Will is invalidated and she is treated as having predeceased you.  The Will is still valid, but the gift you intended to give her will fail.  Again, these are all things the attorney is going to know and he is going to ensure that the correct witnesses are present. 

Finally, template documents you may find and use online are just that, template.  An attorney is going to draft your documents to your specific circumstances, including the fact that you live in Georgia.  The template documents you choose to use may not be Georgia specific documents.  The fact that a document is not Georgia specific will most likely not cause the Will to fail, but it certainly can make the probate process much more difficult.  An attorney is going to draft a Will which is "self-proving", meaning the witnesses won't have to be located and brought in front of the Court to testify as to the validity of your Will when you pass away.  Many template forms are not self-proving, adding another layer of complexity to the probate process.  Attorneys are also going to discuss "returns", "inventories", and "bond" with you.  These are all things which can be required but can be waived in your Will.  Again, many template forms do not address these issues and if they aren't addressed, the probate process becomes more complex, more time consuming, and more expensive. 

Although a lot of people want to save money on their estate plans, I've never met someone who wants to make the lives of their loved ones more difficult after they've passed away.  It is an almost universal truth that people want the probate process to be as expedient, efficient, and cheap.  One of the primary ways to accomplish that goal is to consult with an Estate Planning attorney prior to doing anything with respect to your estate plan.  Is an online template Will better than no Will?  Yes, but it is also not nearly as good as a detailed well thought out Will drafted by an Estate Planning attorney. 

If money is a concern give me a call for a free consultation and we can see what we can do about fees based on the complexity of the plan you need!

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