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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do It Yourself Planning

Forbes Magazine’s September 7 issue had a thought provoking article on “Do It Yourself Wills”.  My Wealth Counsel colleague in Montana, Mark Josephson, took the conversation one step further with the commentary he shared.  I hope you find this informative. 

Josephson states: “The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills got me thinking about some additional comments:

The Forbes article talks about the famous Montana court case involving Charles Kuralt (he was the famous CBS broadcaster who labeled Montana's Beartooth Highway as the most beautiful drive in America) and his handwritten love letter to his mistress.  In a case that went to the Montana Supreme Court FOUR times, his handwritten love letter was ruled to have given his valuable Montana property to his mistress and to add insult to injury Kuralt's family had to pay the estate taxes due on the Montana property because the handwritten letter did not coordinate with the tax clause of his professionally drafted Will.

IN another Montana case, The Estate of Dern, in which case Mary and Clifford Dern, who each had children from a different marriage, bought a trust package from a non-lawyer and also attempted to amend it themselves four times -- sometimes having proper signatures, sometimes not.  In the end, the children ended up suing Mary with the case ending up in the Montana Supreme Court.  Justice Nelson in that case summed up the whole do-it-yourself thing as best as I've ever read.   He said:

 “Given the facts of this case, it is appropriate to make a further observation:

 “If nothing else, our decision here should serve as a warning of the pitfalls of the "canned," "fill in the blanks," "one size fits all" trust instruments that are increasingly being sold to unsuspecting members of the public, particularly senior citizens, by salesmen, many of whom have no professional qualifications whatsoever and some of whom are little better than scam artists. ...

 In truth, few areas of the law are more technical, complicated and prone to financial disaster than estate planning and trusts, nor more demanding of the sort of individually tailored advice and assistance that can best be obtained from a competent attorney and tax professional. This case, unfortunately, proves that point.”

Justice James C. Nelson of the Montana Supreme Court certainly offered a stern warning on the “DIY Wills”.  The Judge’s views seem to have been formed long before the Forbes 9/07/2010 article, but his sentiments seem to parallel the Forbes article. 

Let it serve as the ounce of prevention by serving as your own “competent attorney” that the Judge refers to in his above commentary.

Beware of those offers to “…put the law in hands” or others offering certain legal forms over the Internet.  These providers fail to clearly inform the unsuspecting public that they are simply a:

1) clerical service with those provided by an attorney; 

2) they are not a law firm or attorney nor a substitute for an attorney or law firm; 

3) they were sued by several attorney generals [including State of Washington] for selling, transferring or disclosing consumer  confidential information to 3rdparties.  

Finally, when you get their packaged forms you are on your own on what to do next.   So you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of being your own “competent attorney.” 

My recommendation is that your decision should not be based solely on cost as; in the end it may be more expensive for you and your love ones. You should look at Estate Planning costs as part of the cost of protecting your investment.  So you decide how valuable it is to protect your hard earned $$$.

The Claveran Law Firm assists clients with Estate Planning, Asset Protection, Planning for Children, Business Entity Formation, Commercial Real Estate, Residential Real Estate, Bankruptcy and Personal Injury in Long Beach, California and throughout Los Angeles, California.

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