Don’t DIY Your Legacy: The Value of Professional Estate Planning

We all know why estate planning is important. We may even be willing to sit down and think about the hard questions, who is going to care you’re your loved ones when you are gone and how you want to be remembered.

It can be tempting to do it ourselves, or even use a family member who is an attorney.

But as an attorney who has only practiced in estate planning and probate for over a decade, I can tell you: don’t do it. An ineffective estate plan can be worse than no plan at all.

Consider the case of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who served on the Supreme Court from 1969 to 1986.He presided over a wide area of cases, from abortion rights to capital punishment to school desegregation. Despite his vast legal expertise, his attempt to draft his own Will serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of specialized estate planning.

In May 1994, nine days after his wife passed, Chief Justice sat down at his home computer and typed out his Will in 176 words. Clearly a man with great intellect and power to not only interpret but shape the laws of this County would be able to sufficiently draft his own Will.

Unfortunately, this was not the case, He failed to use effective tax strategies and invoke necessary Executor powers. These errors cost his estate $450,000 in taxes and more costs and headaches by requiring an avoidable probate.

Specialized Knowledge and Experience

Estate planning attorneys possess specialized knowledge in tax law, probate, and the nuances of estate management that general practitioners may not have. They are trained to navigate complex tax codes and estate laws, which can vary significantly from state to state. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger wrote his own simple will, which failed to consider important tax-saving measures that could have been avoided with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Mitigating Risks and Avoiding Pitfalls

One of the most significant benefits of hiring an estate planning attorney is their ability to foresee and mitigate potential risks. DIY estate planning or relying on a non-specialist can lead to oversights that may result in costly legal battles or unintended asset distribution.

In this case, it came out later that Chief Justice Burger and his wife did consult with lawyers and there were already other trusts set up. However, there was no comprehensive estate plan. The Will gave Burger a false sense of security.

This highlights how even knowledgeable individuals can make critical errors without specialized advice.

Keeping Up with Changing Laws and Strategies

Estate laws are continually evolving, and staying current with these changes is essential for effective estate planning. Estate planning attorneys are well-versed in current laws and can adjust your estate plan to reflect any legislative changes. This ensures that your estate plan remains valid and effective, avoiding legal complications for your heirs.

Comprehensive Documentation and Administration

Proper estate planning involves more than just drafting a will. It includes creating various documents such as living trusts, deeds, healthcare directives, and powers of attorney. An estate planning attorney ensures all these documents are correctly drafted, executed, and stored, providing comprehensive coverage that a DIY approach or a general attorney might miss. A good estate planner can advise on the best ways to handle your assets, such as a business or real estate.

The case of former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger serves as a stark reminder of the importance of utilizing a specialized estate planning attorney. Their expertise safeguards assets and reduces tax liabilities. Additionally, you can ensure that your estate plan is thorough, up-to-date, and tailored to your specific needs. Investing in the services of an estate planning attorney is a step towards securing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.