I am often asked: ‘Do I really need a lawyer or can I just do my estate planning myself’?

Putting my bias as an Orange County estate planning lawyer aside, the truth is that creating your own legal documents creates a false sense of security and serious problems that you won’t catch until it’s too late to do anything about.

Let me give you an example.   Say you’re pretty handy so you decide to build your family a new home over the summer months.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just something to shed your family from the elements and save you a ton of money in the process.

So you grab your tools and take great care to follow the instructions you’ve found in DIY magazines and books.  However, unbeknownst to you, a key element of placing waterproof felt between the sheeting and the shingles is left out of the project.

Who would know that?  You just assumed the shingles went right over the wood!

To make matters worse, you didn’t find out you missed this important element until the third year when the sheeting starts to rot away and you now are getting rainwater in your brand new house!  By the time you figure what’s causing the leak and how to stop it, you realize the repairs will cost you thousands of dollars more than if you just hired a contractor in the first place.

The same holds true for DYI estate planning.

It seems really easy, and companies are making a fortune selling you the false belief that DIY, fill-in-the-blank estate planning forms will protect your family if the unthinkable happens.

But then a crisis comes, such as a lawsuit, hospitalization, or even worse a death – and your family will be scrambling after finding out that critical elements were missing from the plan.  And in most cases, the plan will ultimately fail because of a simple oversight that a lawyer would have caught.

And the cost of a failed estate plan?  Hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary tax bills, probate court costs, unforeseen custody placements of your kids (a la foster care), loss of assets and years of headaches.

Although to be fair, this same situation can happen even if you work with a lawyer and fail to update your plan as your life, and the law, changes through the years.   We have people that call us all the time who spent thousands of dollars on an estate plan and only to wind up in probate court anyway for this very reason.

Yet if you are still determined to draft your plan yourself rather than consult with an Orange County estate planning lawyer, here are my best recommendations:

  1. Get everything you do reviewed by a lawyer. It’s better to know than to wonder.
  2. Make sure you do the whole job, not just part of it.
  3. If you have kids, make sure you have adequately provided for their care.

And of course if you already have a DIY estate plan and you’re now unsure whether it would hold water in court, I’d a like to extend you the opportunity to come in for a free Family Wealth Planning Session ($750 value) so you can get your documents personally reviewed by me.   These sessions are limited to 10 appointments per month so call 949-260-1400 and reserve your space today.