Buyer Beware: The Dangers of Do-it-Yourself Estate Planning

Newsletter | Nov 17, 2017 | Hook Law Center

There are increasingly more websites offering do-it-yourself estate planning documents at a very low cost.  If you’re trying to save money, it might be tempting to cut corners and use one of these websites, especially if you believe your wishes and your estate are simple.  Unfortunately, while the cost to use these websites may be low, the expense of fixing the problems they cause is almost guaranteed to be significantly higher.

In recent years, I’ve encountered several documents generated online which had serious flaws – for example, a trust that was missing major distribution provisions, a will without the necessary attestation clause, and a power of attorney that was not sufficiently broad enough to permit the agent to assist the client in qualifying financially for Medicaid.  If the issue is brought to my attention while the individual still has the mental capacity to sign a new document, we’ll sign the new document, revoke the old one, and the crisis will have been averted.  If I am seeing the document for the first time after a client has died or lost mental capacity, unfortunately, we will have to rely on that document moving forward.

You may create a revocable trust online, but if you fail to fund it – to transfer assets into it or name it as the beneficiary of those assets, or to pass assets into it at your death via a “pour-over” will – it will be useless.  You may also create a power of attorney online, but if you fail to include some of the powers we often recommend in order to assist clients in qualifying financially for Medicaid or VA Aid & Attendance, your agent will have fewer options available to them in the event you require assistance paying for long-term care.  These documents are more than just forms to be filled in.  What they say matters.

A well-formed estate plan takes into account your wishes, your family circumstances, your financial situation, and any potential tax consequences.  To truly be effective, it must be comprehensive.  If someone – an online service or even an attorney – is willing to prepare estate planning documents for you (a will, trust, advance medical directive, and/or power of attorney, generally) without getting a full understanding of your family dynamics and your assets, consider that a red flag.  You will not be getting the best advice, nor will it be tailored to meet your needs.

An experienced estate planning attorney will walk you through the estate planning process, gathering the necessary information and making recommendations specific to you.  You will walk away not only with a set of documents carefully crafted to meet your needs, but also with specific recommendations and the peace of mind in knowing that your affairs are in order.

Hook Law Center recognizes the importance of keeping estate planning affordable, and is in some circumstances able to prepare same-day documents for clients, keeping costs down and avoiding a return trip to our office.  To determine whether you may be a good candidate for this service, contact the Hook Law Center today.

Ask Kit Kat – Dementia & Keeping a Pet

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, should someone with dementia keep a pet?

Kit Kat:  Well, there are many things to consider when a person is diagnosed with dementia. If there is a beloved pet in the household, it may be best not to make any change right away. Pets are an enormous source of comfort and stimulation for anyone, let alone one who is declining in mental awareness. As the disease progresses, there will be things to consider about maintaining a pet.

First, one must consider the capability of the person with dementia. In some, the disease progresses very slowly. My human mother’s mother lived with dementia/Alzheimer’s for 17 years. In others, the disease progresses rapidly. So each situation must be evaluated individually, and it must be determined if the person with dementia has the capability of caring for a pet. Pets, though, lovable, do require work. With cats, buying litter, scooping it daily, maybe too much for someone with impairments to manage by themselves. Dogs need to be walked. Is there a close friend or relative who can help with these tasks?

Second, one must ask if the individual wants to keep the pet. Sometimes, with dementia, there are accompanying personality changes. Do pets bring joy to him/her or are they a source of irritation?

Should the decision be made that the person in question can no longer keep the pet, there are alternatives. A friend or relative may volunteer to raise the pet and allow visits with its former owner. As a last resort, surrender the pet to a no-kill animal shelter or the humane society.  Never just let the pet out on the street to fend for itself. Cats, which have been indoor all their lives, do not adapt well there. My family adopted one such cat we found in a restaurant parking lot. She had been fixed, but was about 10 years old, the vet estimated. Sometimes, people are specifically looking for older pets who are past the kitten/puppy stage where they jump a lot and chew on things.       The final decision should be made considering what is best for both the person with dementia and the pet. (Adapted from Celia Monroe,, 10-16-17)

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