Planning your own Estate – What could go wrong?
There is an old adage, “You get what you pay for.”. There is another one that reads, “A lawyer that represents himself has a fool for a client.” Now, I am good with doing things on your own. Why pay someone to do something that can just as easily be done by you. I scan my own groceries. I wash my own car. And I have thought about changing my car’s oil. And here’s where it gets interesting for me.
I understand that the changing of a car’s oil is a pretty simple process. But I also understand if I mess something up – if I don’t tighten a cap enough (or if it is too tight) or if I use the wrong oil – there are big, and expensive, issues that will arise. So I leave it to the experts – I go to the mechanics to make sure my car is treated right!
When it comes to estate planning, there is a general misconception that it is a simple process, like changing a car’s oil. And in some cases, an estate may be pretty straightforward. But in most instances, there is too much to consider and account for, making even the “simplest” plans complicated. The big element is time – how much time will elapse between now and the day your executor has to step in? And with that time, there is an inherent risk to changes in circumstances, in assets, and in law. Did you predict the COVID pandemic that started in 2020?
Tax is another big and complex issue. Tax starts with Title 26 of the United States Code. Between the actual written law, and the IRS’ additional interpretations and regulations around the law, there are nearly 17,000 pages of text. That is a lot of information to take into account when planning your estate.
The next issue is each State’s probate and trust codes – laws on death and succession. In Arizona, there are 12 chapters, containing 67 articles, in New Mexico there are 2 chapters, containing 23 articles (and even more numerous parts and subparts), and in Indiana there are 2 chapters, 9 Articles, and over 109 chapters. In addition to the laws, there are the court cases that interpret the laws. All of this means that there are a lot of things to know and consider when developing your estate plan.
If you decide to create your own estate plan, you have decided to save a couple dollars in the present, but you most likely have created some big and expensive issues in the future. You cannot plan for that which you do not know. To truly save your family needless headaches and additional money, come and talk with an expert about how to develop the best plan for you.
Contributed by Attorney James P. Plitz