If you want to, you can devise your own estate plan without the benefit of lawyers or other trained advisors. All you need is a credit card, a computer, a printer, and access to the Internet. With those tools, you can come up with a set of documents that may or may not accomplish your goal. The problem is that you will never know. The ultimate success or the failure of an estate plan is rarely revealed during the lifetime of the “planmaker.” (No, planmaker is not a real word, but you know what I mean.)
You have seen the commercials. You have heard the radio ads. But before you go to a website to have your estate plan constructed by a computer program, be sure to ask yourself this: Do I really believe that a brilliant lawyer, or a highly-paid radio personality who hawks these kinds of programs, would trust a website to come up with an estate plan for himself and his family? If it’s not good enough for them, why would it be good enough for you?
You may not have as large of an estate as Mr. Fancy Shmancy lawyer or Mr. Radiobucks, but everything you own is everything you own, and it makes a difference to you whether it goes where you want it to go after you are gone. It also makes a difference to you who will make decisions on your behalf if there is ever a time when you can’t make them yourself. Do you want your hand-picked decision-maker talking with your doctor when you’re unable to speak, or are you willing to leave it to chance as to who steps up to the plate?
The problem with computer-driven estate plans is that in the real world, more often than not, they don’t work. An effective estate plan involves far more than a set of documents, even very well drawn documents, that would stand up in any court in the land. For one thing, wouldn’t it be better to have an estate plan that will help you and your family stay out of court altogether? Going to court is not the end of the world, but it can be a royal pain. It would be better for you and your loved ones if you get your plan right the first time. It should also continue to work according to your wishes in light of changes in your health, your “stuff,” the law, and the list of people you like and trust.
Bottom line: There is a lot of really good information on the Internet. There is also a lot of misinformation. Do you have the training and background to tell one from the other when it comes to putting your estate plan in order? If so, knock yourself out, Professor. If not, there is something to be said for working with live professionals instead of an impersonal website that cares more about your credit card authorization than about what happens to you and your family. For more information about creating an estate plan that works, check out www.est8planning.com.
SCOTT MAKUAKANE is a lawyer whose practice has emphasized estate planning and trust law since 1983. He hosts Est8Planning Essentials, a weekly TV talk show which airs on KWHE (Oceanic channel 11) at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday evenings. For more information about Scott and his law firm, Est8Planning Counsel LLLC, visit www.est8planning.com.