I recently read this article from U.S. News & World Report on the Dangers of DIY Estate Planning.  I think the article is well written and does a good job of representing both approaches – DIY or work with a lawyer.  I, of course, believe the better option is to work with a lawyer.  And specifically with one who focuses on estate planning.  There are many nuances and, like the article says, each individual and family is unique – think of them each as snowflakes . . . none are the same.

I have consistently recommended against DIY estate planning solutions except under a few, specific circumstances.  My reason for sharing the article is to give you an unbiased opinion on the topic from someone other than me.  I encourage you to read it.  The are only a couple of items I think need clarification:

  • I think the following statement is misleading: “all the legal assistance money can buy didn’t help Michael Jackson get his affairs in order before his unexpected death.”  If you’ve read about his estate and the effort (or lack thereof) that was put into it, you quickly realize that, although he could afford “all the legal assistance money can buy,” he did not use it.  He had a surprisingly small amount of estate planning, especially given the size of his estate.
  • Even Legal Zoom acknowledges (via their own study) that only 25%-35% of parents have named guardians for their children and yet they treat it like any other estate planning decision.  This is by far THE most important estate planning decision for parents with minor children and it deserves proper counseling (yes, attorney and counselor at law is my title) to help them reach the decision on who should care for their children if something happens to them.  The decision is too important to leave it undecided or poorly executed.
  • It CAN be worse than doing nothing.  I know of one case where a parent inadvertently disinherited their child – ouch!

So, what do you think of the article?  What are your thoughts on DIY estate planning versus working with a lawyer?  What is it that you don’t like about working with a lawyer?  Please share.  I am constantly looking to improve how I and other estate planners can better serve families.

Michael Lichterman is an attorney specializing in estate planning and helping provide peace of mind to families and businesses in Grand Rapids, Grandville, Cascade, Forest Hills, Ada, Byron Center, Caledonia, and the surrounding areas.  He specializes in “whole family wealth” planning for doctors, nurses, lawyers, other professionals with minor children, and the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children) – and does so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.