"If I just write down how I want to leave my property when I die, and sign it, will that work?"
"How about if I write the words 'Last Will and Testament' at the top of the page?"
"What if I have it notarized?"
"No? Then I guess I'll have to get a form off the Internet, and do it right."
To some, the thought of retaining the services of a licensed attorney in regard to their estate planning seems a waste.
Of course, some people go to the doctor whenever they get the sniffles.
And, some never go, until forced by a threatening loved one, fear of eminent mortality, or even an ambulance.
Everyone has their own comfort level.
But when it comes to estate planning matters, I highly recommend the enlistment of the services of qualified legal counsel.
Even with the availability of online forms, there is no substitute, in my opinion, for the advice of good counsel, to ensure that all of the issues of importance are covered, and the documents properly prepared and executed so as to be valid and effective in the desired and intended manner, at the proper time.
And for those who may not be knowledgeable about the concepts, terminology and choices regarding matters such as independent administration, waiver of bond, testamentary trusts, lineal descendants per stirpes, non probate transfers, and due execution, what a lawyer provides that forms alone do not is information about the process, a checklist of important matters to be considered, and the certainty and knowledge that the documents are being prepared and executed correctly, so as to cover all the bases.
So many times when I discuss estate planning with clients, I hear the words: "I hadn't thought of that."
That is part of a lawyer's job, to enlighten clients as to matters they may have not even thought about or considered.
For instance, what if, God forbid, one of your beneficiaries was to predecease you? What then?
Something else that people often fail to consider is that it can be just as important to you and your loved ones to consider planning for your old age, and possible incapacity and disability, as it is your death.
Another issue to consider is an advance declaration of a client's end of life wishes, to be followed if they are unable to state them.
Getting these affairs in order can bring not only comfort, and peace of mind, but it also serves to diminish the ultimate burdens on your loved ones, who will be left to deal with your affairs as you grow old, and when you die.
Helping clients become aware of, understand, and effectively deal with these and other issues in the manner that they choose is the role of a lawyer.
These are also things that few people really like to think about, consider, and least of all pay money to have to address.
But over the years, the universal refrain that I have heard from estate planning clients is: "We've been talking about doing this for years, and now that we have, I am so glad we did."
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org