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The dangers of DIY estate planning

There are a lot of things in life that you can do yourself without too much consequence. Maybe you're really handy when it comes to minor home repairs. Or maybe you're great at sewing new clothes for your kids or grandkids.

While these are certainly things to be proud of, it does not mean you should take a DIY approach to everything in life.

Consider estate planning. Some people in New Jersey have probably considered crafting their own estate plans without the assistance of a professional. While it is certainly possible to do this, it can hurt you - and possibly your heirs - in the long run.

Mistakes can be costly

Perhaps the biggest case against handling your estate planning by yourself is that a mistake will cost you.

For example, imagine that you name your major assets in your will and who you want to inherit them but leave out smaller assets because they aren't worth much. Let's say that, over time, those smaller assets appreciated substantially in value, but you forgot to update your will to include them.

If you do not designate a beneficiary for your assets, the state of New Jersey will decide for you. The state has laws about who will receive an inheritance if a will does not state it. This means that your assets could end up going to someone you wouldn't have chosen - and therefore not to the person you would have chosen.

Additionally, forgetting to address property in your estate plan can lead to divisive arguments between family members. These arguments can lead to expensive litigation and create irreparable rifts in your family.

One size does not fit all

Most do-it-yourself estate plans are not designed to fit your unique circumstances. That is a problem.

For example, a DIY plan may not give you the options you need to ensure your child who lives with a disability is protected after you are gone. A lawyer, however, can explain the benefits of a special needs trust and help you set one up.

Even two people who have similar amounts and types of assets - and even similar family situations - may have very different estate planning goals. Maybe you want to leave your assets to your children, but your neighbor would rather gift his to charity.

A custom estate plan drafted by an attorney can be written in a way that supports your specific goals - not just those that are most common.

Do you know your best options?

The benefit of working with an estate planning lawyer is that lawyers know the relevant laws inside and out. They also know how to work within the laws to ensure maximum protection of your property and your heirs.

Do you know how to limit your exposure to inheritance taxes? Do you know how to protect your heirs from having to deal with creditors? Do you know how your estate plan should be changed to address a new child, a divorce or an elderly family member becoming incapacitated?

There are countless estate planning tools that can be used to your benefit and the benefit of your heirs. A lawyer can help you determine which will be most effective for you.

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