Self-help books are an ever-increasing segment of the American publishing market. There are books and software on everything from gardening to health care. There are even books and software out there that purport to allow an individual to draft his or her own estate planning documents. Some of these items are promoted by media personalities and others by purported experts.
Some of these items have technical flaws. For example, the Elder Law Section and the Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association have noted serious flaws in one set of “off the shelf” documents promoted by a seemingly reputable source. The Bar is asking the organization to remove North Carolina from the list of approved states. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
However, even if there were nothing wrong with the documents themselves, self-help is a dangerous way to proceed. There is an old adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Similarly, someone who drafts his or her own estate plan is being penny-wise and pound-foolish. In both cases, there is a lack of perspective. Even an attorney needs to step back and let someone who does not have personal involvement in the situation examine the facts and suggest alternatives.
In addition to perspective, an attorney brings years of expertise, training, and experience regarding the law and its application in various factual circumstances. What may seem simple to a layperson may have many layers of complication. For example, let’s say you want to leave everything to your children so you write a will and you say just that. What happens if your son predeceases you? Does his share go to your other children? Does his share go to his children? Does his share go to his widow? What happens to joint property? If you have an IRA, 401k, and life insurance, will they go to your children? Those assets will go to the children only if the beneficiary designations send the assets to the kids, regardless of the terms of the will. Even if your will gives your life insurance and retirement assets to your children, the beneficiary designation form or federal law may override your desire if proper steps are not taken.
The manner in which an asset gets to your beneficiaries also can affect the income tax consequences. For example, if you name your son as beneficiary of your IRA, he will be able to stretch out the recognition of income over his lifetime. If you name your trust as beneficiary normally he will have to recognize all of the income much more quickly, even if he is the beneficiary under the trust.
As you can see, what appears simple on the surface has many hidden traps for the untrained. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you design and implement your estate plan to achieve your unique goals.
Morrison Law Group, PLC has devoted its practice to Louisiana trusts and estate law for more than 18 years and has been a Member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys since 2017. Morrison Law Group, PLC is one of only three firms in Louisiana to be admitted to Academy Membership. The firm has helped thousands of clients meet their estate planning goals and pass on lasting legacies to their loved ones. To learn more about how you can achieve your estate planning goals, please call (504) 831-2348 or visit our website at www.morrisonlawplc.com.