Ohio residents trying to plan their estate without the assistance of an attorney may wish to reconsider that decision. While the use of DIY legal documents has become popular for wills, trusts and powers of attorney, it also comes with risks.
Documents used in estate planning are subject to strict requirements. One reason is that when a will or power of attorney becomes effective, the maker is deceased or disabled and cannot be questioned as to intent when signing the document. Failure to follow formalities can cause the document to be challenged and possibly invalidated.
Examples of DIY estate documents incorrectly drafted or executed include wills not signed in the presence of witnesses, trusts that are never funded, or trust assets that are improperly titled. Sometimes a power of attorney may name a person ineligible to serve in that capacity and no contingent attorney-in-fact was named. In each of these cases, the document may become wholly or partially invalid.
In addition to drafting errors, there may be estate planning strategies or techniques a lay person is unaware of. For example, a spendthrift trust is a great way to shield assets left to a beneficiary from his or her creditors, but many people are not familiar with such a vehicle. Tax issues are often overlooked by nonprofessionals as well.
Those who desire to prepare their own estate planning documents should at minimum have them reviewed in advance by an experienced estate planning attorney. Changes can be made to the documents before they are signed if the attorney detects any legal flaws.