How “Shopping Around” for An Estate Plan Could Leave Your Family With an Expensive, Unintended Mess

By Pantea I. Fozouni

September 27, 2018

wills and trusts and estate planing can avoid probate

Maybe you’ve heard that before investing in a professional service you should “get three estimates.”

While often this is wise advice, it’s actually a bad idea when it comes to estate planning.

In this article, I explain why and how you can ensure you get the most efficient and affordable plan possible for your family without shopping estate planning lawyers the way you may think.

​Why “Get Three Estimates” Doesn’t Protect Your Family

Let’s begin with why “getting three estimates” for an estate plan doesn’t work to actually get you what you want.

First and foremost, this recommendation assumes that you should be shopping for an estate plan based on cost alone and that you understand exactly what you are shopping for and how to evaluate those estimates.

Shopping for an estate plan with the idea of spending the lowest amount possible is the fastest path to leaving your family with an empty set of documents (maybe in a beautiful binder, but not worth the paper they are printed on) that won’t actually work for your family when your loved ones need it.

Unfortunately, we see the negative effects of cheap estate planning when family members come to us during a time of grief with that fancy binder that sat on the shelf for years sending out signals of false security, full-of-out of date estate planning documents. They often find themselves stuck in court or conflict even though that’s exactly what their loved ones thought they had paid someone to avoid for them.

​An Illustrative Story For You About ​A $3,000 Plan That Didn’t Work

By Alexis Neely, America’s Family Business Lawyer™

“When I was in law school, my father-in-law died. He had spent $3,000 to work with a law firm in Florida to create estate planning documents that he was told would keep us out of court and out of conflict with his ex-wife when he died or if he became incapacitated.

“He received a nice thick set of documents, a fancy binder, and peace of mind. He put the binder on his shelf, never looked at it again and never heard from his lawyer again. He died thinking it was all handled.

“You can imagine our surprise then when after his death, we were stuck dealing with the probate court and his ex-wife – the exact things my father-in-law had spent good money to protect us from having to deal with.

“It turns out that his fancy set of documents had never been updated so they were completely out of date. And his assets weren’t even titled in the name of his estate plan.

“I thought, ‘For sure this must have been malpractice.’

“But after going to work at one of the best law firms in the country and then surveying hundreds of other lawyers just to confirm, I found out that this was not malpractice at all.

“This was common practice.

“Lawyers everywhere were putting in place form documents that they know won’t work when their clients’ families need them, not because they are bad people or bad lawyers but because that’s how they were trained.

“This model typically involves form documents, no updating of the documents or regular communication with clients once the plan was done, no inventory of the assets to ensure that all assets could be found after the death or incapacity of a loved one, and not ensuring that assets are titled properly to make sure the plan even worked.

“On top of that, I later discovered that the plans lawyers were putting in place for families with minor kids at home had huge gaps that left the kids at risk of being taken out of their home and into protective custody while the named guardians were located.

“This happened even at the best law firm in the country, which I worked at for three years after law school.

“When I left to start my own law firm, I made a commitment to create something truly meaningful for my clients: plans that would actually work when their families need it to give you true peace of mind, all through a compassionate process that supports my clients to not just plan for death, but to become better parents, better business owners, and better community citizens during their lives.

​“Now Family Business Lawyers™ across the globe are being trained the right way to plan for families and be there for your loved ones when you can’t be.

​5 ​Reasons To Avoid The Same Mess

Here are five reasons why shopping around for the cheapest estate plan is likely to leave you with a plan that won’t work for your family … and will leave them with a big mess instead.

  1. The least expensive plan is not worth the paper it’s written on once you’ve left the attorney’s office. Your life changes, the law changes, and your assets change over time. Your estate plan needs to keep up with those changes. The truth of the matter is that a lawyer who charges only a few hundred dollars for documents cannot afford to provide anything more than documents. There simply is not room for the lawyer to provide the updating and regular check-ins that need to happen when you do an estate plan. That business model simply doesn’t work.
  1. Cheap estate plans are often sold by financial professionals or form document companies who are not trained estate planning attorneys. But they are not doing right by your family by selling you something cheap. An attorney who has built a practice to actually serve your family in your best interests cannot support their practice, their clients, and their own family by selling $399 documents. Buyer beware!
  2. Forms and documents won’t be there for your family when you can’t be – you want to leave your loved ones a relationship with a trusted advisor with whom you have built relationship during your lifetime and who your family has already met and already trust.
  3. You get what you pay for and unfortunately it’s your family who pays the price. As you read in Alexis’ story above, her father-in-law died after paying $3,000 for an estate plan (not cheap) so that his family would not have to deal with the probate court or his ex-wife after his death, and yet that’s exactly what happened when he died. Why? Because the law firm was a traditional forms-and-documents firm that only put documents in place, but didn’t make sure his assets were owned in the right way or that his plan stayed up to date over time. You might think that is malpractice, but unfortunately it is not. It’s common practice and it leaves your family at risk if and when something happens to you!
  4. An estate plan isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. You estate plan needs to stay up to date with changes in your life, your assets and the law. There is currently a massive amount of money sitting in state departments of unclaimed property throughout the U.S. This typically because surviving family members of a loved one lose track of it or doesn’t even know about it.

These are five ways your family loses out if you shop around for the cheapest estate plan rather than getting in place a plan that actually works for the people you love.

Plus, there is a risk that if you simply keep shopping around, you will never actually get around to putting a plan in place at all.

​False Security Or Genuine Peace Of Mind?

If what you want is the false security of a cheap estate plan, go online and do it yourself. Chances are, you haven’t done that because you know that’s risky business and you love your family too much for that.

It’s the same way when you are shopping around town for the cheapest plan possible.

Because you love your family, you don’t actually want the cheap plan. You want the plan that is going to work for your the people you love when they need it.

In the meantime, if you already have an estate plan in place and you are concerned you may have gotten a cheap plan that will not actually serve your family when they need it most, contact us for a plan review.

We don’t just draft documents – we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. Schedule online today.

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