Estate Planning: … Do I Really Need a Lawyer?


In the world of Do-It-Yourself, does it make sense to retain an attorney to complete your estate planning?  We are all aware of the availability of legal documents on the Internet and the ease with which you can purchase a legal package to complete your own Will and some related documents.

I read an article in a reputable business magazine a few years ago in which the writer evaluated five different Will packages she obtained from the Internet or the local office supply.  All of the Will packages were recommended as legal in her state.  After completing the five Will packages, she acknowledged some were easier to use than others and she evaluated her experience.  Her conclusion is key and that is that even after carefully following the instructions in each Will package she still did not have any “peace of mind.”

Sometimes we are so fixated on the little things that we miss the big picture.  We work our whole lives to accumulate wealth to provide for ourselves in our retirement.  Why risk it now?  Some of the Will packages may seem to save you money at the outset, what happens when you pass away?  Have all contingencies been considered?  One small mistake can be extremely costly.

Last week the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of two nieces whose aunt used a Will package in 2004 to complete her Will.  Although the two nieces were not mentioned in the Will, the court ruled in their favor because the Will package did not have a residuary clause providing for the disposition of property not listed in the document.

The Florida Supreme Court’s opinion included statements from concurring Justice Barbara Pariente who viewed the ruling as a cautionary tale.  “While I appreciate that there are many individuals in this state who might have difficulty affording a lawyer,” Pariente said, “this case does remind me of the adage ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish.’ . . .

“I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance.  As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees – the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”

This problem is not unique to Florida.  Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Seek counsel from a qualified estate planning attorney to help you achieve your estate planning goals and “peace of mind.”

JensenBayles, LLP provides a broad spectrum of legal services.  Thomas J. Bayles has been actively providing advice in the areas of trusts, wills, probate and tax planning in the St. George market for over 18 years. Please visit our web site www.jensenbayles.com or call 435-674-9718 and ask for Thomas J. Bayles or Phillip G. Gubler. The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice.