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Do-It-Yourself Wills #doityourselfwill

      Do a search online and you can quickly find advertisements for websites and software that will help you prepare your own will and other legal documents.  Some choose this option to save the legal fees.  But is this being “penny wise but pound foolish”?

            Estate planning is as much for your loved ones as it is for yourself.  After all, it is your loved ones who will have to deal with the consequences of your decisions and clean up any “mess” that you have left behind.

            One do-it-yourself website begins with a questionnaire that, once you complete it, is reviewed by a non-lawyer “specialist” who cannot give legal advice.  As a U.S. News and World Report article (December 23, 2007) noted, wills and estate administration are governed by state law and every state has its differences.  If you use a national website or software, it still must be tailored to your particular state.  You are putting a lot of trust and faith in the company you are using that they are compliant with the laws in your state.  If that company is mistaken your loved ones will suffer the consequences.

            We’ve seen plenty of do-it-yourself wills that are problematic.  Some weren’t executed in accordance with New Jersey law.  Others had mistakes which resulted in the person’s desires not being carried out as he/she wishes.  Still others are silent on important decisions and issues or fail to take advantage of tax savings strategies.

            The U.S. News article states that do-it-yourself wills are best suited for people worth less than $2,000,000, which was the threshold for triggering federal estate tax at the time the article was written (now $5,450,000).  However, that is incorrect since the New Jersey estate tax threshold is $675,000.  There are tax savings strategies that can help avoid New Jersey estate tax, that a knowledgeable estate and elder law attorney can help you take advangage of.

Additionally, New Jersey has an inheritance tax which can be unknowingly and unnecessarily triggered.  For example, many clients have said they wish to leave an inheritance to a son-in-law or daughter-in-law because “I love my in-law like a child”.  When I explain that the client will also show how much he loves the State of New Jersey because the in-law’s share will be subject to inheritance tax whereas the child’s share will not, the client quickly abandons the idea.  That’s just one of many scenarios we see in our office on a regular basis.

            No software or website that I have seen is capable of giving tailored legal advice that can help clients save tens of thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The old adage “you get what you pay for” still holds true.