Hiring an Attorney Comes With Benefits
There is no legal requirement to hire an attorney to assist you in your estate plan. Just as a person can act as their attorney (pro se), you are legally allowed to prepare your estate plan. However, doing so is a calculated risk.
The underlying documents that make up an estate plan, and the functions they serve, are governed by numerous state laws and precedents which must be adhered to. The consequences of running afoul of these laws may be either innocuous or severe, depending on the law in question.
Similarly, suppose two people are legally married. In that case, even if they are separated, you cannot disinherit a spouse in Colorado just by excluding them from your will because spouses are entitled to an “elective share” of a decedent’s estate.
In addition to specific state statutes, proper estate planning must also consider the method and timing of distributions to successors, which can have tremendous impacts on taxes and the ultimate owners of assets. Many people, eager to make the distribution of their assets swift and simple after their death, unknowingly commit severe errors which end up costing their families in the long run.
For instance, rather than prepare a financial power of attorney or a will, many people have simply added one of their children to all of their accounts and assets as a joint owner, thinking that this would allow them access to money to help care for them during life, and give them immediate access upon death so they can then divide the assets among siblings.
However, upon the joint owner’s death, the asset in question becomes the sole property of the remaining joint owner. As such, the child who was named on those accounts becomes the sole owner and has no duty or obligation to share the asset with siblings, even despite what may have been in the decedent’s will, if any. Overall, there are many pitfalls in estate planning which the uninformed can unknowingly fall into, with potentially devastating effects on themselves and their families.