There are a lot of options in online services to draft estate planning documents, such as wills, trust, durable powers of attorney, and healthcare proxies. These online services can appear to be a very good option for most people. With these options available, is it necessary to use an estate planning attorney?
An effective estate plan combines learning from the past, adapting to the present, and anticipating the future. While these document generators codify learning from the past through processes and procedures and have some elements that adapt to the present, they do not provide a way to anticipate the future in the way that a professional advisor can.
An estate planning attorney can help you to anticipate the cause and effect relationship between the choices you make today and the effect it may have on your future goals and objectives. They can also help you to identify what might prevent you from achieving your objectives, to determine the likelihood of these things happening, and plan for what to do if they occur.
For example, say someone wants all of their assets to go to their wife if she is living and to all of their children equally if she is not. A will might read:
“I make this my last will, giving all of my assets, both real and personal and wherever situated, to my wife, if she survives me, and if no then equally to my children, the issue of any deceased child taking their parent’s share equally, and asking that my wife be my personal representative without sureties on her bond.”
As long as proper procedure is followed as it is signed and witnessed, this is a valid will. However, here are things that would prevent that from actually happening:
• This client could have a retirement account and life insurance from before the marriage. These assets would be distributed according to their beneficiary designation forms, and this client may have chosen their parents as the beneficiaries at the time. In this case, if the beneficiaries are not updated, these assets would still go to go the parents.
• Even if none of this client’s children has a drug problem, if one or more of them were to develop an opioid addiction in the future, they might have judgments against them from creditors at the client’s death. In this case, instead of going to the child, creditors could get whatever assets that child might receive from the estate.
• If the client’s wife and children were to die before the client and there were grandchildren under the age of 18, any assets might not go to them but instead go to a guardian appointed by the court until they are 18.
• If this client has their own law practice but their wife and children are not themselves lawyers, they cannot inherit the practice and much of the value of the good will of the practice would disappear once the client has passed.
None of these situations will necessarily occur, but once they are anticipated as a possible future situation, actions can be taken to plan or adjust for them. This would include changing beneficiary designations, providing that assets are protected for children or grandchildren, and getting or replacing the value of one’s practice with insurance.
Using a basic will may save clients some money today, but it will not equip them to anticipate the future. An estate planning lawyer can advise you in planning for future changes and possibilities and help you and your loved ones avoid the risk of the loss of assets.
For help designing your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.