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Can I draft and assemble my own estate plan?

Indianapolis, IN |

Over the past several months, I've been trying to seek help from attorneys to draft a will, living will, powers of attorney, etc. I have either gotten conflicting advice (some will say a living trust is not needed, others swear by them) or none at all (some won't bother responding to my messages). So I'm thinking I need to go the "do it myself" route. I see plenty of tools on the internet to help (websites, software). They "seem" good, and from what I understand most lawyers will "copy and paste" my name in template documents anyway. Can I just use something like this myself? I have a pretty simple estate. Will lawyers be willing to review my work after I do it myself? What sites and/or software are good places to start?

Attorney Answers 4


It is fraught with danger. There are indeed kits but you get the same will or trust that every other person using the software gets. There is no attorney review so you may not be using the current law. Assets may be improperly transferred into a trust or not at all. The tax ramifications in estate planning can but huge. Opinions can vary but they are based on the facts presented and an additional fact may in fact change things dramatically. Nolo Press has a series of things to allow you to do this but understand you do it at your own peril. By the time it is needed, it is too late to fix anything.

Contact your local bar association for referral to an attorney who specializes in this. Often, but not always, the attorney will do an initial consultation free of charge. You will then be in a better position to determine what to do next. Best of luck to you!

If you liked this answer, click on the thumbs up! Thanks. Eliz. C. A. Johnson Post Office Box 8 Danville, California 94526-0008 Legal disclaimer: I do not practice law in any state but California. As such, any responses to posted inquiries, such as the one above, are limited to a general understanding of law in California and not to any other jurisdiction. In addition, no response to any posted inquiry should be deemed to constitute legal advice, nor to constitute the existence of an attorney/client or other contractual or fiduciary relationship, inasmuch as legal advice can only be provided in circumstances in which the attorney is able to ask questions of the person seeking legal advice and to thus gather appropriate information.

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It's easy to assume that any lawyer that tells you that you need a lawyer is simply trying to keep his industry productive. Knowing that you'll take my thoughts with that grain of salt, doing it yourself is never a good idea.

If you hear different advice, don't be so ready to assume that it's conflicting. Competent estate planning is a bit more involved than asking what you want and pulling the forms off of the shelf. Hearing different advice tells me that either you aren't repeating the same plan and goals to different attorneys, or you're encountering attorneys that simply prefer helping you achieve your goals through different means. As for the ones that won't return your calls, you don't want to hire them anyway and it appears that they're too busy to help you even if you did.

The problem with handling the matter for yourself is that when it comes time to test your documents and learn if you've done things right, it's too late to correct them if you're wrong. If you want a lawyer to review what you've put together after you do it yourself, why not simply hire one the first time so that they can produce something that you know they'll be confident in?

I encourage estate planning for everyone, and so if push came to shove, I suppose I'd rather you did it yourself rather than didn't do it at all. But I've yet to encounter a site or template that I could even come close to endorsing. Every one that I've come across has caused headaches for loved ones further down the road.

This answer does not constitute legal advice. I am admitted to practice law in the State of Texas only, and make no attempt to opine on matters of law that are not relevant to Texas. This answer is based on general principles of law that may or may not relate to your specific situation, and is for promotional purposes only. You should never rely on this answer alone and nothing in these communications creates an attorney-client relationship.

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4 lawyers agree


I am an attorney licensed to practice in California and not your home State of Indiana. However, I will give you a general response to your question.
Yes, attorneys have pre-prepared sections of text that we use in preparing documents such as wills and trusts. To do otherwise would require many multiples of the time to prepare estate planning documents - and multiples of the fees charged to you. In 99% of the cases we do not use fill in the blanks forms. Any attorney worth their "salt" will not use a "fill in the blanks" form. Yes we do use software that contains many sections of text to select from and modify as necessary. The art in preparing estate planning documents is selecting the appropriate sections of pre-prepared text to use in a document and determiing how to modify that text to fulfill the client's stated needs in conformance with State law. Further, depending on the complexity of your needs we may have to prepare whole sections of unique text to fulfill your requiements.
There are several services that offer on line document preparation services and software. This is a one size fits all approach and cannot take into consideration the application of law tuned to all of your unique needs.
Estate Planning attorneys often become involved in estate plans that were drafted by laymen, sometimes by themselves, or by use of software of by use of fill in the blanks. This involvement takes place after the testator's death and we are called upon to litigate the problems caused by errors in application of law or ask the court amend the plan. We would rather do the job right the first time. There is an old expression that "people cannot afford to do a job correctly the first time but they can always afford the high cost to repair it afterwards."
There is a reason attorneys spend three years in law school and are required to pass a bar exam that tests their knowledge of their State's laws and federal law.
The cost to review your work in preparing an estate plan will be expensive because the attorney will become liable for errors they did not catch and their insurance carrier will be having heart palpatations. Therefore, most attorneys are reluctant to review your work and will probably cause a major rewrite if they do. My advice is to pay the cost to get the job done correctly the first time.

Nothing contained in the information on this web site is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. This web site is intended for educational purposes only. Michael R. Weinstein, is licensed to practice only before the courts of the State of California, and is admitted to practice before the United States District Court for the Central District and the United States Cou rt of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit. No information contained herein is to be considered applicable to legal matters in domestic or foreign jurisdictions outside of the State of California.

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I am sorry to hear that you have not been able to find an attorney to assist you. As for doing it yourself, I agree with the other attorneys that it is preferable to hire an attorney instead of using form preparation software - a good local attorney should ask probing questions, explain what options are available, what documents/terms are the minimum to meet your needs, what options might meet your needs better (or in a different way), and WHY. If you aren't being provided with the why, then I agree that you should look for another attorney to assist you. Yes, we all have our styles and preferences, but the client's needs should prevail.

When I prepare an estate plan, I do start with a basic format, then customize it for the client's individual needs. There are many standard clauses that I do "copy and paste", since it is more efficient (and therefore cost effective for the client) to have some form standardization, but it is the customization that is the true service being provided by the attorney.

You also asked about whether an attorney would review the documents if you prepared them. I do not like doing that - by the time I have met with the client, discussed what their estate planning goals are, reviewed the documents, made my notes, and discussed them with the client, in most cases I would have spent less time (and therefore less of the client's $$) doing it myself.

Finally, when you say you have a "simple" estate, many times I find that it's not as simple as the client thinks, once we get deeper into the choices that need to be made. Again, it takes a knowledgable attorney to delve far enough. I wish you luck!

I am only licensed in Indiana. The information provided is general information, and is not intended to be interpreted as individual legal advice. For advice specific to your circumstances, you should consult an attorney.

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