I used to attempt home repairs more than I do now. Experience can be such a harsh teacher. On one notable occasion, my do it yourself plumbing “repair” caused a flood inside my home. I was so confident, before the fact, that the initial problem (the steady drip, drip, drip from a leaky valve) would require but a simple fix. Not so. If you have ever watched Mickey Mouse perform the role of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, you can envision my panicked response when water began pouring out all over the floor, through the ceiling below, etc. “Our first homeowners’ claim,” my wife remarked rather matter of fact-ly, as we surveyed the damage I had unleashed. As embarrassing as the whole situation was for me personally, the blow to my wallet hurt worse. The dollars I expected to save by doing the job myself were in fact paid several times over in order to satisfy the deductible on my homeowners’ policy.
So, I have learned to leave many “simple” repairs to those more qualified. In a similar vein, I have found in my estate planning practice that folks who attempt do it yourself estate planning risk creating big headaches for themselves. Case in point: a few years back, a new client came to me after her attempt to sell her home was completely frustrated by some do it yourself estate planning. It all began when she inherited a home from her parents’ estate. She decided it would be easy to add her three minor children on the property’s title. As she explained to me, well after the fact, her intent was to protect the children’s rights in the property were she to die. With that in mind, she purchased a fill in the blanks quit claim deed at her local stationery store and had the deed recorded. Not long afterwards, when she decided to sell the property, she learned that adding her minor children to the title created huge problems: for the title company, which would not insure the transaction because of the underage sellers; for her prospective buyer, who would not proceed without title insurance; for her lender; and, for herself. Too late my client realized her attempt at do it yourself estate planning turned out about as well as my exercise in plumbing repairs.
I have heard variants of this sad story from other estate planning professionals. It isn’t uncommon, it appears, for well-intentioned folks to take a stab at preparing their own estate plan without professional advice. I suppose the access to all that free information via the internet, the proliferation of do it yourself legal kits and the entirely understandable desire to save a few bucks wherever possible have led more than a few enterprising consumers to boldly go where they eventually realize they wish they hadn’t. Having stood with wet shoes in the puddles created by my do it yourself plumbing, I can certainly sympathize. As I have learned, and as my client learned, sound professional advice can protect you from costly mistakes.
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