Estate Planning for Low-Income Individuals: Avoid DIY Documents
May 16, 2023
The Legal Intelligencer
Types : Bylined Articles
Regardless of a client’s income level, and even for clients with seemingly straightforward goals, DIY estate planning is generally not a good idea for many reasons.
Estate planning for most individuals, in particular low-income individuals with few assets, is simple. It does not require much thought or consideration and can, of course, be handled without legal advice. After all, anyone can Google “will,” “living will, “advance directive” or “power of attorney” and find scores of appropriate documents. Then it is just a matter of downloading the template and filling-in names. Simple enough and far easier than finding, working with, and compensating a lawyer. Right?
Most estate planning lawyers would disagree with that view, but it is a common one, perhaps especially for the two-thirds of Americans who have no documented estate plan. I volunteer at Philadelphia VIP to draft planning documents for low-income Philadelphians, and staff attorneys there tell me they encounter clients operating under similar assumptions. To the extent VIP’s clients already have wills, they are often one-size-fits all documents, or they are overly complicated because of bad advice from friends, neighbors or even TikTok videos.
Regardless of a client’s income level, and even for clients with seemingly straightforward goals, DIY estate planning is generally not a good idea for many reasons. Well-drafted, customized estate planning documents are drawn to take into account not only present circumstances, but changes of circumstance. Online documents might not consider changes of circumstance. By the same token, hastily lawyer-drawn documents might miss important issues.