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Financial planners warn against cookie-cutter wills

Do-it-yourself legal documents have been available in various forms for quite some time and the advent of the internet has made boilerplate forms more readily available than ever. For some West Palm Beach residents, a simple fill-in-the-blanks will may be perfectly adequate to address minimal estate planning concerns. When it comes to managing assets of any real value, though, financial professionals caution that relying on one-size-fits-all solutions may be lead to problems that vastly outweigh any upfront savings.

The most critical concern with prefabricated estate planning documents stems from the fact that probate laws vary from state to state and frequently change in subtle ways. A simple mistake or bad choice of words in a will or power of attorney can render the entire instrument invalid and defeat the whole purpose of executing the document in the first place. If a will is declared invalid, estate assets will be distributed according to state law instead of according to the drafter's wishes.

The most critical concern with prefabricated estate planning documents stems from the fact that probate laws vary from state to state and frequently change in subtle ways. A simple mistake or bad choice of words in a will or power of attorney can render the entire instrument invalid and defeat the whole purpose of executing the document in the first place. If a will is declared invalid, estate assets will be distributed according to state law instead of according to the drafter's wishes.

Another problem with using a prefabricated will is that it cannot take a person's individual circumstances into account when it comes to important considerations such as estate taxes, coordinating estate administration with assets like retirement accounts and insurance policies, and making sound plans for dependent children or family members with special needs. By relying on a cookie-cutter will, many people may be missing the opportunity to take advantage of a broad range of estate planning tools that can effectively and efficiently carry out end-of-life wishes.

Even though many estate planning instruments will not take effect until after death, planning one's legacy involves some of the most important considerations in a person's lifetime. Because the stakes are so important and the consequences of error so great, many financial professionals advise their clients to seek an experienced attorney for their estate planning needs.

Source: The Daily News, "Homemade Wills Can Cause Woes," Ray and Dana Brandon, Aug. 30, 2012

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