DIY Estate Planning

Occasionally people ask if they or their parents can make a DIY will. In California, a person can draft a handwritten will without an attorney and I’m sure there are even YouTube videos on how to do it. However, unlike learning to cut hair or French a seam on YouTube (both of which I’ve done), planning your estate is usually more complicated.

There are a lot of moving parts. First, there is more to an estate plan than a will. For example, there are powers of attorney, guardianship, and custodianship considerations, among other things.

Not only that, even the law governing simple wills is not that simple. Case in point, England’s gift to American probate law, the Rule Against Perpetuities. Put simply, this prohibits a trust from lasting forever and ever, well, into perpetuity. It dates back to the 1680s and confounds even experienced lawyers so often that the California Supreme Court ruled that it is not malpractice if a California attorney misinterprets it!  

You may think that since I am an estate planning lawyer, it’s in my best interest to tell you to get a lawyer to draft your estate plan. And that would be true. But, most estate planning lawyers also know that people who DIY their own estate plans are good for business. This is because laymen, and even lawyers who dabble in estate planning, make lots of mistakes. They fail to document or even recognize the gaps, inconsistencies, ambiguities and alternatives that are the foundation of an experienced estate planner’s practice.

Botched, incomplete or invalid wills turn up in our offices usually after it’s too late and the drafter has died. The children and heirs end up paying much more than the cost of preparing a plan. In addition to attorney’s fees, they pay with their time, emotional and mental frustration, and, sometimes, ruined family relationships.

Recently, a task for assembled by the American Bar Association issued a statement on whether people should attempt doing their own estate plan. Their answer is that it might be okay in some circumstances but that it’s probably not a good idea. You can read the ABA article here.

To talk about about how I can help your with your estate plan, contact me here or call 650.636.7247.