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What Goes Into a Well-Drafted Estate Plan? And Does it Matter?

I recently heard a podcast where the "Armchair Expert" encouraged listeners to get a will through a particular online do-it-yourself platform. I wasn't impressed. Without being well-acquainted with the particular platform being promoted, it is safe to say that a fill-in-the-blank document cannot account for the intricacies of a person's life in the same way that a skilled estate planning attorney can. How do clients ask questions? How do they get clarification to make sure they understand their documents? And how does the end product reflect a complete picture of the clients' history and priorities and hopes for the future? I do not believe it can. You need an attorney for that.

And not just any attorney will do. I'll illustrate with an example: A couple recently contacted me to review their trust. It had a been a few years, and in light of the COVID pandemic, they wanted to ensure that it would work in the way they anticipated should anything happen to them. Their trust was created by an attorney who lived on their street, who I gathered was not technically an estate planning attorney. But he drew up a simple, straightforward trust for their simple, straightforward situation.

It turns out, however, that he missed something. This couple wanted their estate to ultimately be distributed among their five grown children, outright and free of trust. One of their adult daughters, however, receives government benefits due to a disability, benefits which she qualifies for only so long as she holds almost no other assets in her name. If she one day receives an inheritance, this woman will be cut off from the benefits that have sustained her for many years.

My clients were shocked to hear this. The very document that they believed would provide their descendants a wonderful, welcomed inheritance was actually setting up one child for failure. We fixed this, of course, with a simple amendment that directed one share into a special needs trust to benefit their daughter without cutting off her government support. My clients were relieved, and I was happy to help.

I imagine that this is not the only family who has been walking around with a false sense of security thanks to an improperly drafted estate plan. I understand how going through the effort of setting up a trust gives a person the sense that their assets are protected, their descendants will be taken care of, and that there will be no need for a probate court to get involved in their estate. But if poorly drafted or never funded, a trust might not do any of those things.

It is worth your time to call an attorney to set up (or clean up) your estate plan. It will be time and money well spent if you can walk away with peace of mind that is actually justified. Give me a call today.

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