VOL. 127 | NO. 170 | Thursday, August 30, 2012
Rays of Wisdom
Dana and Ray Brandon
Homemade Wills Can Cause Woes
By Ray and Dana Brandon
Ray’s Take The Internet is loaded with do-it-yourself will instructions and fill-in-the-blank documents. I do not recommend using any of them. Not only is there no assurance there aren’t errors in the document you may select, they may well lead to greater problems for the very people you had intended to help.
Mistakes can actually render your will invalid, leaving a new set of problems to be solved by those you actually wanted to protect. This alone is reason enough to consult a lawyer with an extensive background in estate planning. When a will is declared invalid, the state makes all the decisions about your estate, deciding everything from who has custody of minor children to how assets are divided. If this occurs, the wishes you expressed in your will may or may not have a lot of bearing on what actually happens. A valid but unclear will may be worse, possible leaving family members in court with differing interpretations of what it says.
Beyond that, there are taxes and other aspects of estate planning that cookie-cutter documents just can’t address. A lawyer can help you protect your estate from unnecessary taxation. He or she can also take into consideration assets such as life insurance, annuities, and qualified plans, making sure they work with your will and your estate plan as you intended.
If you have married more than once, have stepchildren, own a business, want to support charities, have a disabled dependent or any one of a whole range of unique situations, standard documents as well as general document preparation services could be doing you and your heirs a serious disservice.
Go to a lawyer for your will. Talk to him in depth so he can draw up a will that accurately reflects your wants and desires. Then keep that will current. Anytime you move to another state, buy or sell property, or have changes in your family structure it could be time for changes in your will as well.
Dana’s Take It’s important to get the right lawyer for your will and estate planning needs, one with experience in this field. If you cut corners, your surviving family will pay the price.
Settling an estate takes a long time – when the planning is flawless. Cut corners and the cost in time and money to your family may eat up the benefit you intended to provide.
Before you meet with your lawyer you might draw up a list of questions to ask, as well as an outline of how you want your assets divided. After all, lawyers typically bill by the hour, so being prepared could save you money.
Find someone with experience in estate planning, and involve your financial planner or accountant in the process. That way you can be sure that all the professionals who are working on your behalf are also working in concert.
Ray Brandon is a certified financial planner and CEO of Brandon Financial Planning (www.brandonplanning.com). His wife, Dana, has a bachelor’s degree in finance and is a licensed clinical social worker. Contact Ray Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org.