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Estate Planning: Five Reasons Not To Use Free Online Resources

May 2, 2019

Will. Codicil. Living trust. Living Will.  Probate. Avoid probate. Durable power of attorney. Power of attorney for health. Nursing home protection. Executor. Heirs. Beneficiaries. Estate taxes. Life estate. 

Estate planning can be overwhelming!  A quick Google search of these terms and concepts will give you a lot of information—some good (like this article!) and some bad. That search will also undoubtedly point you toward free or inexpensive “Will Kits”, “Estate Planning Forms”, “Online Wills” and the like.  Here are five good reasons to do estate planning with a competent attorney instead of using free or inexpensive online resources. 

  1. You are Unique. Every Minnesotan and every Minnesota family is unique.  Do you or one of your children have a blended family? What about the child who owes you money?  Or your grandchild who receives government benefits for a disability?  What if your daughter is a great financial manager, but an emotional mess under pressure? How do you let your son take over the family farm but also treat your other children fairly? What is the best tax-wise way to benefit the charities you care about? And what about grandchildren? Are step-grandchildren included? Or children born out of wedlock? How about the cabin? Online resources won’t give you options for addressing any of these situations or other things that make your family unique.     
  2. Minnesota is Unique. Free or inexpensive online resources are “one size fits all” tools geared toward the legal environment where most Americans live.  If you live in Minnesota, you do not live where most Americans live.  Online resources are geared toward the legal environments in California and New York—the places where most Americans live. The probate courts in Minnesota are very different from the probate courts in California and New York.  The laws are different.  The procedures are different.  And the attorneys are different too.  Even resources that allow you to “check the box” to get Minnesota forms do not take into account Minnesota’s unique non-probate options.  Estate planning with an attorney is particularly good bang for the buck for Minnesotans who own their home but otherwise have small or modest estates—the exact kind of people who might be tempted to use online resources. Minnesota’s unique probate and non-probate real estate planning options can be very powerful and comparatively inexpensive tools for these Minnesotans.
  3. Estate Planning With an Attorney Will Save Money. True, online resources are free or inexpensive. But the poor quality estate plans produced by free or inexpensive resources can cost your family and your estate more money in the future.  It costs infinitely less money to do estate planning with an attorney than to fix poorly planned estates or solve family fights down the road.  By spending a little money on estate planning on the front end you can spare your family and your estate the larger attorneys’ fees, time and heartache caused by poor planning. Think of estate planning with an attorney as preventive medicine.  If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care, an ounce of attorney’s fees for estate planning is worth a pound of attorney’s fees for future probate and litigation over a poorly planned estate.  
  4. Estate Planning With an Attorney is Comprehensive Planning. Wills are an important component of estate planning, but they are never the only component.  Similarly, Wills govern disposition of your assets after death but Wills do nothing to help you manage your assets or your health during your lifetime, even if you lose the capacity to manage your affairs yourself. If you complete an online Will form, your estate planning is not complete.  Estate planning with an attorney is so much more than just doing a Will!  Estate planning with an attorney is comprehensive planning to cover a variety of present and future scenarios, tailored to your unique family and circumstances.      
  5. Your Family is Worth It. Think about the reasons you want to do estate planning in the first place. Along with other important reasons, you probably want to make things simple and easy for your family when you are gone.  You want them to be taken care of and not burdened with legal or financial headaches.  A little time with a competent estate planning attorney is worth the cost to make this happen.  You are worth it.  Your family is worth it.

If you have not done estate planning with an attorney, or if it has been a while since you reviewed your estate plan with an attorney, call me or any of our estate planning attorneys. I will listen to what makes you and your family unique and I will recommend Minnesota estate planning options to best address your needs.  At the end of the estate planning process, you will feel relieved and confident with your comprehensive estate plan. You and your family are worth it.

Written by Mary Kay Mages

Legal excellence. Personal commitment.

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