He Built Me a She-Shed, and Now He Wants to DIY Everything!

Q. My husband, James, retired last year after 35 years of teaching middle school history. He loved to teach, so in his spare time, he now tutors students. Besides tutoring, he loves working with his hands, so he became a Do-it-Yourselfer. To my surprise, for my 60th birthday, he built me a “she-shed,” where I often escape to read my favorite historical fiction novels, to quilt, and to display my Lladro figurines (out of reach of the grandchildren). This was the best gift ever!

James’ DIY attitude has carried over to other areas of his life, and it has saved us lots money, in many instances, by not having to hire a handyman, an accountant, or a plumber. Now, James is insisting on doing our estate planning documents on his own. I am thinking that this is a bad idea. I would hate for something to go wrong, and for my children to have to step in and take care of it when we are no longer around to help. Is there any good DIY estate planning software you would recommend, or can you back me up in saying that we should see an experienced estate planning attorney for such things? Thanks for your help!

A. It was very nice of your husband to build you a she-shed. I certainly see the appeal, and my wife, Jeannie, would agree with you wholeheartedly.
It is also great that your husband is pursuing his interests, now that he is retired. If you are handy, being a DIYer is a great talent to have, as it will save lots of money in the long run. However, DIYing is not a good idea for everything, especially if it involves legal documents.

Based on your question, it would appear that your husband is considering preparing your estate planning documents on his own, perhaps through an online service such as LegalZoom. Unfortunately, the reality is that many, if not most people who use DIY documents/forms do it wrong.

According to Legal Zoom’s own disclaimer “LegalZoom is not a law firm, and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney. LegalZoom’s legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney . . . LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all the information on the site is completely current. The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance.”

Free DIY Estate Planning Can Be Costly

Whether you’ve downloaded the forms for free or it cost a few dollars, the price you ultimately pay for DIY documents may result in a bigger financial payout in the future, and lots of headaches for your loved ones. Here are some of the reasons why your husband should stick to DIY home repairs, and seek professional help from experienced estate planning attorneys for your estate planning needs:

  • Overlooking important details: The smallest of details define estate planning documents and overlooking just one of those details can mean big problems.
  • Ambiguities in the documents: If your will / trust documents are not drafted by an experienced professional, then it is much more likely that these documents will contain ambiguities, and you will not be around to clarify what you meant the documents to say, and it then becomes a family fight. Having properly drafted documents done for you by an experienced attorney can keep a family from splitting apart down the road.
  • Documents Aren’t Reviewed by a Qualified Attorney: None of the DIY websites, including the “big name” ones such as LegalZoom, are law firms.This means that they’re not legally permitted to review any of your legal documents to ensure they would stand up to your state’s laws. In other words, you’re on your own, despite their best assurances.
  • Lasting Consequences: The risks of improperly drafting your own estate plan can have lasting, detrimental consequences, such as leaving the decision to the Court to appoint a guardian for your children, leaving your assets unprotected, and leaving your loved ones devastated without provision.

Think of it this way: If I have a toothache, I can use the pliers in my toolbox to extract my own tooth instead of having an oral surgeon perform the procedure. Of course, just because I can do it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

What the Experts Have to Say

The experts at Consumer Reports warn against DIY estate planning. A probe into do-it-yourself estate planning was conducted by the highly respected and objective magazine. Members of the Consumer Reports team created three Wills using downloads and worksheets that you can purchase from three of the most popular websites that sell fill-in-the-blanks legal documents. They presented these Wills to a panel of three legal professors.

The documents got three thumbs down because:

  • The professors found information that was not current;
  • Users were not able to customize the documents appropriately;
  • The sites lacked flexibility and had incomplete information;
  • It was possible to include conflicting clauses in the documents.

Only Trust an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney for Your Estate Planning Needs

When it comes to estate planning, you don’t want to treat the entirety of what you worked your whole life to accumulate to an online legal factory. You and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney. LegalZoom’s legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney . . . LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all the information on the site is completely current. The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance.”

Even if the online documents were perfect, estate planning is about much more than getting the documents right. Sometimes the documents are right and they still don’t work because your financial affairs are not in sync with them. It can get rather complicated, and it takes an experienced estate planning and Elder Law attorney, such as those at the Farr Law Firm, to help you plan effectively. We can help you leave your hard-earned money and assets, as well as a sense of your values, to your loved ones.

Get Your Estate Planning in Order, Without Delay

If you haven’t updated your estate plan in the last few years, or done your own estate planning, the time is now. Contact us for a free initial consultation to discuss your estate planning needs. Be sure to ask about The Farr Law Firm’s Lifetime Protection Program, which ensures that your documents are properly reviewed and updated annually, so that they will always reflect your current wishes and be up to date with the ever-changing laws. Make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Fairfax Estate Planning Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Estate Planning Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Estate Planning Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Estate Planning Attorney: 202-587-2797

Leave a comment