The do-it-yourself movement has impacted all areas of our daily lives. You go onto the internet and see all sorts of information laid out in front of you. Much of this data is extensive and it does come from experts. In some areas, what you see on the internet is a great substitute for going out and paying an exorbitant amount of money for the same service that you can do yourself. After all, why pay for something when you get all of the information for free? I am sorry to tell you that estate planning and asset protection are not areas where you can do everything on your own and have the peace of mind that you would get when you hire a professional. These are areas where the stakes are simply too high to leave anything to chance. Any mistake that you make when you are trying to do this on your own may leave your loved ones unprepared and your assets vulnerable.
Of course, there are always some places where DIY efforts can save you time and money. When you are dealing with something as formal as estate planning or asset protection, courts will not cut any slack for someone simply because they were doing their own legal work. Details matter when it comes to wills and other trusts. If these details are not executed properly, it will not matter in the eyes of the law. In other words, your legal documents do not get graded on a curve because you do not have a lawyer. The fact that a certain document is not signed in the right place can be enough to invalidate an entire legal document and make it seem as if it was never signed in the first place.
The same rules apply when you are dealing with trusts that are a part of estate planning. These things need to be done one hundred percent correct in order to be fully effective. The court views these areas as too important and too susceptible to manipulation in order to give folks the benefit of the doubt when there is a small mistake. Many times, instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, the court will strictly interpret whatever document that it sees in front of it. The court may not even look to anything that goes beyond the “four corners” of the document in order to try to read the intent of the person who drafted it.
Now, imagine the consequences of a mistake in an important legal document like a will. Any family member who the mistake affects may have a reaction that varies from disappointment to anger. One of the things that they do as a result will be to file a lawsuit. This may tie up the will in court for some time while the lawsuit is resolved. Then, family relationships may be permanently shattered because of the hostility of a court fight. While I am not trying to be an alarmist and to scare you, I am trying to impress upon you the gravity of these documents and the possible consequences when things go wrong.
Many of the same considerations apply when you are dealing with asset protection issues. One of the most important things when it comes to asset protection is the timing of the strategy that you have picked to protect your assets. In other words, if your strategy is not locked down and in place by a certain point in time, namely when your assets come under threat, then it is as if you have done nothing at all. The court will completely disallow whatever strategy you have chosen. Therefore, it is critical to make sure that the document that executes your asset protection strategy is error-free and you have selected the right alternative.
All of this points to a scenario where you can be pennywise and pound foolish when you try to do all of this on your own. Some estate planning strategies such as trusts are irrevocable and need to be that way in order to protect the assets. The flip side of this is that irrevocable means that the trust cannot be changed. Thus, if you have made a mistake, you cannot amend the trust and it is locked in. This is one area where you may not get a second chance. If you establish a trust without having thought through all of the consequences, the ramifications can be long-lasting.
Again, I am not trying to be an alarmist. I am just trying to let you know what happens when estate planning and asset protection do not go right. This is where a lawyer can help you. An estate planning and asset protection attorney will have the knowledge to not only make sure that your legal documents are executed correctly, but will also think through all of the other considerations that apply when you are making an estate plan. These types of legal decisions generally do not occur in a vacuum, but occur as part of an overall strategy. When you try to do this on your own, there are steps that you may not take simply because you do not know that you can. This is where an estate planning attorney can really be worth what you pay for them. This attorney will make sure that the documents are completed correctly and that all of the contingencies are thought of and addressed. Estate planning is simply too risky to save a few dollars by trying to cobble together your own solution.