You do not have to look far to find do-it-yourself books, software and online Arkansas estate planning forms. They offer an enticing bargain. However, DIY estate planning form documents give you just that: a document, not a comprehensive estate plan. They do not counsel you in how to make tough decisions and factors you should consider when making those decisions. They do not help you sift through possible scenarios or weigh pros and cons. They do not warn you of hidden dangers or point out unique planning opportunities. They do not give you personally tailored legal advice. Mistakes can create unintended results and profoundly alter family relationships.
Consider this example. Tom finds a Will form on the Internet that he believes addresses all of his goals. The Will states that his property is to be divided equally among his four children upon his death. Tom's only asset is a bank account. Tom adds his son Sam as a joint owner on that account so that Sam can help Tom pay his bills. Tom does not realize that he has effectively disinherited his other three children. When Tom dies, the bank account will all go to Sam regardless of what Tom's Will says.
If you choose to prepare your own estate planning documents, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you understand all of the terms and the purpose of the documents?
2. Have laws changed since you created your document?
3. Does the form address Arkansas' specific laws?
4. Has the document been property witnessed and signed?
5. Do you have all the documents you need?
6. Have you addressed contingencies?
7. Are your probate and nonprobate assets coordinated?
8. Does your plan account for births, deaths, marriage, divorce and incapacity?
If you decide to use DIY documents, proceed with caution. Creating an estate plan is more than filling in the blanks on a form. One wrong word could be a costly mistake that leads to unintended consequences.
Ashley Naramore is an estate planning attorney who practices in Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village. Mrs. Naramore earned her law degree from University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas and her LLM (Masters of Laws) from Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts.