Why not do my estate planning myself?

I hear this question often, and yes, you can do your own estate planning documents. And more likely than not, they’ll work and be enforceable when needed. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, or understand the consequences of your actions, by the time the documents in your plan are needed and enforceable, it’s often too late to change them and your successors are left to deal with situations that were not your true intent.

Today there are more and more self-help books, software programs, and online businesses to help you draft your own estate plan. And with today’s economy, the temptation to use these products and services is (understandably) more tempting than ever. But these products and services appeal to the masses, they must, in order to streamline the process. They are not always tailored according to your state’s laws, or if they are, they use very general terms. They also don’t, and often can’t, be tailored to your individual life situation and intent.

It only takes one word to completely change the intended meaning of a statement. If you don’t even know to look for a particular word in a particular statement that can make the difference, you’re stuck.

If your estate plan documents have any ambiguities (statements with more than one meaning), it could result in a petition to the court to determine the meaning, easily incurring fees and costs in excess of a complete estate plan drafted by an attorney initially.

If you want to hold assets in trust for your children to get them through school or to an age where they are mature enough to handle assets, these provisions must be carefully worded. Or if you have children with special needs, how are assets managed to supplement their needs and keep them eligible for public benefits? Do you have a blended family? How do you and your current spouse ensure that each of your children will be the beneficiaries of all you’ve worked for, in lieu of others you don’t even know? How do you ensure your assets are maintained for the life of your surviving spouse, and not passed immediately to others?

So yes, legally, you can draft your own documents. But just as a doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient, what about a patient who becomes his own doctor? Sometimes doing things yourself is worse than doing nothing at all. If you act as your own attorney, you may be causing irreparable harm to your estate, your loved ones, and even yourself if you are incapacitated.