Beatrice E. Wolper
Emens & Wolper Law Firm
We are often asked “why shouldn’t I just use L____ Z____ or S____ O____ for my estate documents since the minimum charge for a will is under $100?” “Why shouldn’t I use the internet’s form for my trust since the minimum cost is only $250?” “Living wills are only $40; same for Durable Power for Health Care. Why do I need an attorney for all of these?” “I may be able to get everything for my spouse and myself for less than $1,000.” Why do I need to spend $1,850?” (Discussing your desires with an attorney, until you understand the documents and revising them to meet your wants and needs…is “priceless.”)
The answers to all of these questions are related. People spend a life-time trying to build up assets but some people resist spending money to protect their assets. Some people will spend more money to protect and maintain their automobiles than to protect their most important assets and to specify where the assets should go upon death.
Most people want to take care of spouses and children…and not pay the government money unnecessarily. Yes, it costs money to write a will and to set up trusts, but a good estate planner can guide a person through difficult decisions. It takes time to understand what will happen to a person’s assets when he or she is no longer around…and it takes time to make sure the assets go where that person wants them to go. Complicated lives and money issues are often not easily resolved by “check the box.” Second marriages, step-children, special needs children and other tricky situations may not lend themselves to filing in the form.
Individual choices, goals and desires are usually not found in the “check the box” forms. Trusts can be utilized to protect children so that they won’t be disinherited if the surviving spouse remarries or favors others. Trusts can protect against creditors, or ex-spouses of the children. Trusts can be written to permit children to receive some money for the purchase of a first home, or to travel. It is important that there be a thorough and detailed discussion between the person and a capable estate planner.
Recently I reviewed a will and trust that a client filled in…on his own with internet forms. Estate laws can vary from state to state. Unfortunately, although he never lived in California, the trust stated that California law applied. The will never provided for guardianship of his minor children and since the technicalities of signing the will under Ohio law were not complied with, the “will” would not have been admitted into probate, and the laws of intestacy would have applied. Ohio law would have decided who received the client’s assets!!!! It was a massive failure, but luckily we revised it in time!