My wife broke her right wrist a little while back. This event posed a particular problem for her, since she is also right handed. After the Emergency Room visit, we went to an orthopedic surgeon. As a result, she needed surgery, when the doctor inserted a plate and some screws.
While listing the options of whether my wife should undergo surgery as opposed to just wearing a cast for a long time, the doctor told us something that I believe to be relevant to estate planning:
If we do nothing, he said, the fracture will heal all by itself. Her wrist will end up permanently deformed and she wont be able to do all the things that she usually does, like knitting, but it will heal by itself.
This statement made me think of Estate Planning.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, over 50% of all Americans have no estate planning documents. Of the other 50%, many have tried do it yourself documents or have gone online to find forms, thinking that all that is required is for them to plug in the right spots, thinking thats all they need to be fully protected.
Theres a danger in DIY estate planning documents, though, just as there is a danger in letting a broken limb heal all by itself. By trying to be ones own lawyer, one may be missing important tax savings, special handling for heirs who may not be able to handle money; and any of the countless other things that a lawyer with training, experience and instinct can identify. Properly done, estate planning documents should reflect the best and most accurate statements of all of ones intentions about money, children, health care, and, yes, even death.
And the documents should work as they were intended.
A DIY estate plan is much like a broken bone healing by itself. Its owner may, and sometimes will, end up with a result which not everything that was intended, and, at worst, it may be deformed and may not work at all.
My wife trusts her orthopedist. He explained all the options, the surgery, the healing process, and the expected result. Although she is apprehensive about the surgery, her doctor understood. He was calm, reassuring, confident and hopeful. She expects and deserves no less than the best when something as important as her right hand is involved.
A good estate planning attorney should be the same way.