I do not know an attorney or estate planner out there who does not have a horror story about a client who tried to draft a will or trust on their own. While the cookie-cutter documents you can find online may seem like a great way to save money, they almost always spell disaster. There are just too many things that can go wrong – from the way the documents are worded, to the requirements for how they need to be signed and witnessed in order to be valid.
One particularly unfortunate case I had involved two elderly parents, both of sound mind at the time, who created two powers of attorney (POAs) – one for health care, the other for property – using do-it-yourself online documents. Unfortunately, on the property POA, they entered the date incorrectly and essentially invalidated the document at the time they signed it.
As time passed, one parent mentally declined and needed to go to a nursing home. The family came to us for help with Medicaid planning and advice on protecting their assets. That is when we realized the POA was completely invalid, and without that authority, there was nothing anyone could do. We recommended that they file for guardianship, but they declined to spend the time and money to petition the court and allow access to their personal affairs.
As a result, the family wound up paying over $60,000 in nursing home costs that could have been avoided if they had spent the smallest fraction of that to have an estate planning attorney help them create a proper and valid document. Do-it-yourself is great for a lot of things, but estate planning is not one of them. Working with a professional to take care of basic estate planning upfront can save you a lot of time, money and stress in the long run.