Do-it-yourself estate planning is a risky business.
These days you can go online and find websites that sell generic legal documents. Estate planning documents like last wills are among their offerings. You fill in the blanks with your own information and you are supposedly good to go.
In reality things may not go as planned if you use one of these DIY notions. Last year legal professors from three different law schools engaged by Consumer Reports examined last wills made with tools provided by three of the more popular self-service legal document websites. They advised against DIY estate planning.
The online templates and worksheets are one thing, but there are other things people do when they are trying to address the need to plan ahead without obtaining legal advice. One of these courses of action would be the addition of a co-owner to bank and/or brokerage accounts and even property deeds.
In a nutshell, the overarching problem with joint ownership is the fact that the person that you add as a co-owner has the same rights to the property that you do. This may be acceptable to you after you pass away, but while you are living this access can present significant problems.
Of course the co-owner could spend the money. But in addition to this even if he or she is quite trustworthy these funds could be targeted by the co-owner’s creditors or former spouses. Litigants seeking redress could also go after these funds.
It is not wise to take any risks. If you take the time to consult with a licensed estate planning attorney you can be certain that things have been done right. If you go it alone anything can happen.
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Ryan M. DenmanandDennis D. Duffy
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