Problems With a DIY Approach to Estate Planning and Probate
Thanks to the internet, an unprecedented amount of knowledge is available at our fingertips. We can look up the species of beetle we found on our windowsill right before we look up what happened to the former “fifth Beatle,” Pete Best.
Unfortunately, there is a big difference between learning trivia and receiving the legal guidance you need to plan ahead for the future. While it is always worthwhile to educate yourself on state and federal laws regarding estate planning and probate, there is no substitute for consulting with an actual attorney licensed to practice in probate courts in your state. Without an attorney, you may commit grave mistakes that can cause confusion, stress, and heartache amongst your family members after your passing. In some scenarios, the documents you created through DIY services could fail to execute, meaning your estate becomes intestate.
Overall, there are just too many pitfalls involved in doing all of your estate planning and probate procedures yourself. The law is complicated and situation-dependent. Further, court employees are not permitted to give you any sort of guidance, which can include assistance with filling out forms. You or your surviving family members may think that your documentation is airtight and complete, only to realize that it offers no help when it comes to filling out the actual necessary paperwork during probate.
The risk of confusion or unintended consequences should encourage individuals to seek guidance and representation from experienced estate planning lawyers in New Mexico who are familiar with local probate procedures. You can contact New Mexico Financial & Family Law today for a confidential, no-risk consultation and review of your current documentation when you call (505) 503-1637or contact us online.
The following are some of the issues you might encounter when you try to do estate planning and probate procedures without the guidance of an experienced attorney.
DIY Sites May Be Misleading, Meaning Your Documentation Could Be Unexecutable
Most DIY will drafting websites and other similar services carry very explicit warnings and waivers. Typically, they will say that the website’s information does not constitute legal advice and that it is not a substitute for consulting with an attorney. As a result, many people who use these sites (or, more accurately, their surviving family members) are surprised to find out that the documents they drafted cannot be executed in the way they thought. This can mean that the document executes only in part, or it can mean that the testator (person who wrote their will) actually does not have an executable will, forcing their entire estate to go through probate according to intestate procedures.
“You get what you pay for,” is, perhaps, an oversimplification, but the plain truth is that DIY legal sights are meant as tools and aids rather than a replacement for someone with genuine legal knowledge and experience. Likely, the last thing you want is a surprise waiting for your family when they find out that your document made through a DIY website is not truly a legal document. To prepare for your future and ensure your documents can be executed, at very least consult with an attorney who can verify their validity after they are completed.
Your Intentions May Be Unclear, Possibly Leading to Conflict
Legal language and everyday language are not the same things. Your last will and testament should be written in plain, clear English as much as possible, but common phrasings can actually lead to confusion among beneficiaries and your estate’s representative. You may also omit specific instructions that are needed to carry out your intentions, meaning that it is up to the personal representative to interpret.
Making matters worse, any time a will or other document is unclear or could have multiple interpretations, it invites people to file legal challenges. Will contests can be lengthy and expensive, and they can completely upend what the decedent originally intended to occur.
Having an attorney review your documentation gives you the benefit of someone with knowledge of the law and experience carrying these exact types of cases through court. They can help catch common errors and suggest the addition of certain clauses that may be needed to cover all contingencies, giving you assurance and peace of mind.
You May Not Be Compliant With State Laws
Every state has its own laws for probate and the creation of valid wills, trusts, and other estate-related mechanisms. What works in one state may not work in others. Or, specific state requirements may make entire passages of a will invalid.
During probate, you want to be sure that your actions are not only in line with all state and federal laws but also that you’re doing everything in the best interests of the estate itself.
To reduce the risk that local, state, or federal laws catch you by surprise, you will need to refer to an attorney and likely obtain their guidance through most of the probate process.
Your Documentation May Not Be Able to Accomplish Your Goals
Part of an estate planning attorney’s job is to help you put your own goals and wishes into legally executable words. Some people may not fully understand their goals for their own legacy, or they may overlook important factors that can complicate making those goals happen.
For example, some individuals have specific requests to fund a certain charity with proceeds from their estate. In these cases, it may make more sense to go ahead and set aside these funds in a living trust so that there is a more direct path for the funds to travel compared to going through probate.
When you sit down and talk to an estate planning attorney in your area, they can help you put all of your goals and intentions into clear words. This will then help you form a plan to maximize the chances that your wishes will be met upon your death.
During Probate, You May Misunderstand How the Law Works
Going through probate alone can be confusing and downright scary. You may have limited funds in the estate to pay for things like the family allowance or creditor claims. You must also decide when to close probate so that you can begin distributing assets in accordance with the will.
Without legal knowledge, it is possible for someone to make dire mistakes that affect the entirety of the estate. They may accidentally mix up the priority of payments, which could lead to a lawsuit or legal challenge. They may also fail to take advantage of certain programs or legal actions that could allow them to preserve as much of the estate as possible.
By seeking out the guidance of a New Mexico probate lawyer, you not only ensure that you are using the law to your advantage, but you are also sharing the load with someone who handles cases like yours for a living, reducing your own stress and effort.
You May Have Unique Circumstances or Different Goals That a One-Size-Fits-All Approach Can’t Fulfill
The biggest problem with DIY estate planning and probate is that any one single resource is not going to be able to offer the full amount of help needed for your unique situation.
Every person drafting a last will and testament is different, and they may have unique factors that can be planned for and accommodated through legally executable documents. They may also face challenges, such as extensive tax debts or creditors with dubious claims, which can require careful planning to avoid having the estate liquidated before it can reach heirs.
Overall, working with an attorney offers you the best chance of a satisfactory outcome in nearly every situation. Your lawyer can review your documents and verify that they are executable under state and federal law. They can also help you understand your own goals and take advantage of legal instruments like trusts to help your goals come to fruition.
If you do prefer doing things on your own, at very least get guidance and input from an attorney. They can verify that the legal strategies you have in mind will work and that your documents will be enforceable. You should also revisit your estate plans periodically with help from an attorney in order to update them according to your current situation and in compliance with any recent law changes.
Contact New Mexico Probate Lawyers and Estate Planning Attorneys Near You
If you would like assistance with estate planning or guidance during probate, New Mexico Financial & Family Law is here for you. We have provided clients with legal counsel and representation in the Albuquerque region for decades, and our highest priority is giving you the confidence that your current intentions will become actual future outcomes.
Learn more about estate planning, probate, and the best strategies for each during a confidential, no-obligation case review when you call (505) 503-1637 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.