I love watching home reno shows. Seeing a kitchen or bathroom fully transformed can be really exciting, and gets me wanting to do all sorts of work at home. Which my fiancé loves. One of my favourite shows is Disaster DIY, where a contractor, Bryan Baeumler, shows up at a house where the owner has started a DIY project but hasn’t finished it, or hasn’t finished it very well. Bryan tears out the bad reno, teaches the homeowner how to do it properly, and finishes the project.
Sometimes, in my practice, I feel a bit like Bryan. Given the sheer volume of information out there about estates, many people believe that they are capable of doing all of their own estate planning documents. With new online tools popping up that claim to let you fully prepare your will and powers of attorney on your own, it’s very easy to think that estate planning is something simple that really can be done by anyone.
Consumer Reports has come out in favour of lawyer-drafted wills, noting that DIY kits are not sufficient for what most of us own, or to protect our families. The American Bar Association also recently completed a task force to examine DIY estate planning, concluding that, most of the time, it does not protect and, even worse, lulls people into a false sense of security. Take the case of Will Feree, for example. He bought a will kit, filled in the blanks, signed it, and then died (of an apparent suicide). Because the will was not properly witnessed, it had to be pushed through multiple levels of courts, costing his estate tens of thousands of dollars, all to save a few hundred. This is the biggest problem with DIY estate planning, of course: the financial burden is ultimately felt by those you were trying to protect, after you are gone and nothing can be changed.
Even simple estates can end up complicated if you don’t think of the right questions. I can’t count the number of times when clients have looked at me at the end of our instructions meeting, and said that they realize now that they really don’t have a simple estate.
You can read the ABA task force report here.