Nightmare on Main Street: DIY Estate Planning

I do not know an attorney or estate planner out there who is lacking for stories of clients that tried to draft a Power of Attorney, Will, or Trust on their own. While the cookie-cutter documents which one can find online may seem like a great way to save money, it is entirely common that they backfire leading to dramatic family disharmony and financial disaster. There are countless things that can go wrong – from the way that technical terms are misused to the lack of proper execution formality.

One particularly unfortunate case I had involved an elderly client whose advanced dementia required that she move into a long-term nursing care facility. Years prior to my involvement, the client’s daughter had printed out a fill-in-the-blank Power of Attorney form off the internet. She later confessed that she assumed that Powers of Attorney are essentially “one-size-fits-all”, so she felt like using the free internet form was a good way to save money. Unfortunately, the form that she used lacked sufficient witnesses, so her mother’s bank refused to honor the document at a time when the client’s life savings (on account at the bank) totaled $40,000. To the extent that the bank refused to honor the Power of Attorney (and the client had advanced dementia), the only alternative available to access the $40,000 was a court-ordered declaration of incapacity (guardianship). By the time this tedious and emotional process was complete, the client’s bill at the nursing home exceeded $40,000. As a result, the daughter had to sign over all $40,000 to the nursing home instead of implementing a comprehensive Medicaid plan to protect it.

In the end, our client effectively paid $40,000 for that fill-in-the-blank Power of Attorney when the vast majority of it might have been protected had she spent a small fraction of that amount to have an Eldercare attorney help her to create a proper and valid document. Pursuing DIY projects can be a great way to save money, but when it comes to both your life savings and your true legacy (relationship among children), seeking the help of a good Eldercare or estate planning attorney can be the wisest choice you have ever made.

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