Estate planning may be a simple matter or a very complex one, depending on your circumstances. Let’s review the cases where it could be a do it yourself matter versus hiring an attorney. We’ll also identify the exceptions to the rule so that you don’t try to create estate planning documents that won’t hold up in court after your death.
Single, no kids
If you are single without children of any age, your estate planning is probably simple, and you could consider writing your will yourself.The exception to this is if you want to set up a trust fund that doles out money to various charities and excludes related heirs.
Talk to an attorney so that the will is drawn up in accordance with the local law that cannot be challenged by a nephew or grand-niece. And don’t forget to exclude illegitimate children from your will if you want to eliminate the risk that an ex-comes forward to claim your estate upon your death after telling you that the baby isn’t yours.
Single with kids
If you are single with dependent children, you should consult with an attorney to draw up a will. The will needs to be set up to designate acceptable guardians for your children if you don’t have the other parent in their life able to take care of them. If you’re divorced, you should still try to name alternate guardians in case your ex-doesn’t or can’t take care of them. Do your due diligence to keep your children out of the foster care system.
If you are recently divorced with children, you should consider talking to an attorney to update your will or estate plan so that your ex-doesn’t inherit your assets along with the children. An estate planning expert can set up a trust that doles out the money for legitimate expenses while protecting the assets until the children are old enough to inherit.
Married, no children
If you are married without children of any age, you could do a will yourself and cover your estate planning needs. The will can simply say ‘everything to my spouse’. The possible exception to this is if you’re in a second marriage. If you want everything to go to your current spouse because of a split with a former spouse, talk to an attorney.
Married with children
If you are married with children, you can try a do it yourself approach with a will that leaves everything to your spouse. However, this leaves open the possibility of a legal mess if both you and your spouse pass in a short period of time.
Your estate plan needs to address the long-term needs of the children. Who is the primary guardian for the children if one parent passes and the other incapacitated? Who is the secondary guardian for the children if the first cannot take in the kids?
Another issue is financial. Your teens cannot inherit your assets and manage their bills, and your toddlers certainly won’t be able to manage money for years. This is why your estate plan needs to designate someone to manage the money after it is put in a trust for the sake of the children, though this role may be assigned to the children’s guardian.
Another occasion for consulting with an estate planning lawyer is setting up the right estate plan to provide for a disabled spouse or child after the breadwinner dies.If you own a family business or a farm and want to plan on how to keep it from being liquidated to pay estate taxes, consult with an estate planning expert. You may need to take steps while alive to ensure that the business can pass on intact to your chosen heirs.
Whether you can plan your estate on your own depends on your situation. In some cases, you could get by with a DIY will or estate plan, though it is not recommended. If you’re married with minor children, have anyone who is literally a lifetime dependent of yours who will be left behind, or have an estate complicated by second marriages and competing heirs, then you should definitely consult with an attorney.