This is taken from the Julie Garber newsletter of September 3, 2013: see About.com

“So last week I met with a couple who decided to draft their own wills, joint revocable living trust, advance health care directives, powers of attorney, and quitclaim deed transferring their home into the joint trust using a program sold by a popular, self-proclaimed “personal financial guru.” The reason why they decided to do this is irrelevant at this point because the fact is, they did. And so the bottom line is that they created and signed some what they thought were legally binding documents on their own, without the help of an attorney.”

“So why did they end up coming to see me, an estate planning attorney who could have helped them get these documents right from the beginning? Because one of them is sick and so they wanted reassurance that the documents were in order. Well, unfortunately I couldn’t give them any such reassurance, in fact, I couldn’t give them much of anything since they decided to choose the law of a state other than Florida (where I practice) to govern their joint revocable living trust, and since

I’m not licensed to practice law in this other state, I couldn’t tell them if the trust was legally binding or not under the other state’s laws. In addition, the deed that they did on their own and recorded in the public records doesn’t appear to be valid to me, but then again, I’m not a real estate attorney and, therefore, can’t really be sure.”

“So now, in addition to me, they have to hire two other attorneys to help them determine if the joint trust and deed are, first and foremost, valid under applicable state law, and, if so, do what they actually want them to do, or, if not, how to fix them.”

“What’s the moral to this story? You guessed it – Do it yourself estate planning simply does not work. The saying “A penny wise, a pound foolish” fits this situation to a T. If you think that you’re going to save a few bucks doing your own estate planning documents, think again. Estate planning is a state-specific, convoluted area of the law, and anyone who thinks that they can draft a will or trust or health care directive or power of attorney without the help of a lawyer well-versed in the estate planning laws of their state is delusional. Out of all of the do it yourself estate plans I’ve looked at over the years (and that’s quite a few since I’ve been practicing for 18 years), ZERO have done what the do it yourself drafter thought they would do. Spending a few bucks now to do it yourself is simply not worth it because the reality is either you or your loved ones will spend lots of bucks later to fix it.”

My comments: I could have written this story because it is so typical and often does not surface before someone dies. The only difference is that I am board certified in both estate planning and real estate law, so could determine if the deed is adequate. However, she mentions that it is a “quitclaim deed.” That is not the appropriate type of deed for this matter. See the definitions page of this website. It is most often true that cleaning up the mess is more expensive than preventing it. I recently had a similar matter where clients of mine bought a sales pitch by one of the Living Trust salespeople. The husband died and, for the first time, I saw the documents. Similar to the Julie Garber story, it did not invoke the Texas Trust Code, but the laws of the State of Missouri. Further, the documents were written by a Missouri lawyer who never met the clients or discussed the planning with them. The package was simple generic (one size fits all). My clients didn’t know better, so I don’t blame them, but no generic forms or software package can property prepare documents according to a person’s need. The must be prepared by an attorney knowledgeable and experienced in the subject matter. Believe me, I have tried some of the programs, including one very well advertised one on the Internet. I correctly answered all of the questions, but the results were very unsatisfactory because the program did not know what to ask me or suggest after I had made a response. Further, it didn’t lead me through the process based upon the answer to a previous question. Be very careful. The result may be far more expensive that properly prepared documents.