With all the DIY lawyering services out there, one might be tempted to save a few bucks and go the digital estate-planning route.
On the other hand, one might get what one pays for.
Technically, it is not necessary to hire an attorney but that does not mean it is not a good idea, said Samir Dahman, wealth and estate planning partner and partner in charge in the Columbus office of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz.
“We have represented families … where they tried to create a will on their own and didn’t follow the proper procedures. The will was essentially invalid. That led to tremendous family turmoil,” he said.
Online services may not take into account things like the blended family, special-needs children or disparate incomes, Dahman said.
“Sure, someone could likely find a will template on the internet, just like you could probably find a DIY YouTube video to perform heart surgery, but every situation is different,” said Mitchell Adel, managing partner at Cooper, Adel, Vu & Associates in Centerburg. “ … Templates don’t answer questions that should be answered.”
For example, they do not explain the importance of probate avoidance or that a will does not keep a family out of probate court.
“Unfortunately, wills are only administered in the county probate court. Probate is costly, time-consuming and public record,” Adel said.
A six-month statutory delay is in place before an executor can distribute assets to beneficiaries through probate court, he said. During that time, creditors may get their claims presented.
“On the other hand, if probate is avoided, that delay may be much less or unnecessary. Further, probate court administration is public record,” Adel said.
That means scammers who target seniors or widows have access to information that tells them where assets go.
Adel said most of the attorneys he knows charge less than $100 for a will. Wills are inexpensive. Probate, on the other hand, is very expensive.
The cost of probating a will can be 4% of assets or more, he said. That translates to $4,000 on a $100,000 home.
“The important thing to understand is that a will is not a plan, and a will must go through the probate court to be in effect,” he said.
Both attorneys said there are elements to include in a will to keep it relevant.
“First, you should suggest who you would like to be the executor. ... Depending on the age of your children, your will should also include who you would like appointed by the probate court as guardians for your minor children,” Adel said.
Other considerations include “not disinheriting children through a QTIP trust,” and spendthrift clauses, Dahman said.
A QTIP (Qualified Terminable Interest Property) trust provides for one’s spouse after one’s death protecting assets for future generations. A spendthrift clause prevents beneficiaries from squandering an inheritance before they receive it, and it also protects a beneficiary’s inheritance from creditors.
In addition, if a child would die before a parent, Mom or Dad might want assets to pass down to grandchildren.
“You might also want to include language about who should manage these assets and for how long – such as, until the child reaches age 21, or until they complete a college degree,” Adel said.
Adel said that a revocable living trust is a better way.
“The trustee can immediately administer the assets to the beneficiaries,” Adel said. “The attorney fees are generally not as high to administer after death, though the trust creator may have a higher fee to create a trust as opposed to creating a will.”
Another advantage is that a trust is not a matter of public record, he said.
Adel said one needs a will along with a trust.
Jill McCullough writes for the Columbus Jewish News from Westerville.