Written by Robert T. Nickerson
So you’re thinking about taking the big step to have an estate plan created? Or do you already have one and want to update it? Or are you simply looking at what an estate plan even is? Don’t worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed and even a little intimidated. Anything that revolves around death or the concern for the well-being of your family is rarely ever easy. No one likes to talk about it, but at some point, something has to be done. The last thing you want for your family is to leave them with more headaches and bureaucratic red tape in probate court. But estate planning is also something that many people either assume they can do themselves or will click on the first ad on Google search.
So how do I know I’m not getting ripped off?
Here are five estate planning scams that should raise red flags and you should avoid.
Cold Calls Offering to Prepare Estate Plans
As a part of a law office, WE NEVER OFFER TO PREPARE ESTATE PLANS WITHOUT A IN-PERSON OR ZOOM MEETING. If you receive a phone call with the information they can create you an estate plan on the fly, you should hang up immediately. It’s important to know that estate plans are not “one size fits all”. Each document layout is created for a specific family, depending on a number of factors.
Paying for Estate Planning Templates
I see this one a lot. Someone might call to several law offices and find that the price for an estate plan is more then they realized. So they’ll do a google search and come across something that offers them the “right documents” to create an estate plan with a fee. Do not take these deals. These documents are not legally binding and are made with the purpose to get as much money as possible
Not Needing an Estate Plan
While this isn’t technically a scam, this is something I also see a lot. Perhaps it’s an older couple without much family or even many assets to distribute when their gone. So they simply decide not to even have an estate plan created, thinking that the rest of the family will abide by the honor system. I’m here to tell you now that estate plans aren’t just for when you pass away. They contain important documents like a healthcare directive (which sets up who makes legal decisions for you when your incapacitated). Even if this doesn’t become an issue, death has a tendency to bring our the worst in people. Without a will or an estate plan, that only invites an opportunity for multiple people to make a claim for your property. This is going to end up in probate court and possibly make relationships worse. See what a bad path this could end up without an estate plan?
Paying Way Too Much for an Estate Plan
I try to keep a reasonable service fee to have your estate plan created without taking you to the bank. I’d even encourage you to shop around if your feeling weary to commit, but be on the lookout for an attorney that wants a crazy expensive fee for their services.
Signing a Document You Don’t Understand
This is a big red flag that you should avoid. Yes, a lot of documents have a lot of technical language that’s hard to comprehend, but I always take time to go through each piece of paper to simplify what it all means. Like buying a car or a house, you never want to sign anything without having fully read through it. There could be a hidden clause that'll trigger something in your estate plan that you didn’t want. There could be somebody else’s name as a beneficiary that you didn’t add on. NEVER SIGN A DOCUMENT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.
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Jeffrey C. Nickerson - Estate Planning Attorney - My Passion is Special Needs Planning!