When you compare a do-it-yourself Living Trust with one that was prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney, one of the first things you’re likely to notice is that the attorney-prepared trust is long. And it might not be so easy to read.
There’s a good reason for this. Lawyers don’t write legal documents just to annoy non-lawyers: we write them in order to address as many potential legal issues as possible. When it comes to estate planning, there’s any number of contingencies to prepare for.
Here’s one way to look at it: what if you want to add a new porch to your home? Would you entrust the job to a carpenter whose toolbox comes stocked with only a hammer and a saw, or would you want a craftsman who comes prepared with all the necessary tools to survey the job and do it right the first time? When a qualified estate planning attorney drafts your trust with all the contingencies in mind, you have the equivalent of a fully-stocked toolbox, ready to address a full range of concerns that might arise in the years ahead.
For example, what powers will your Trustee have? State law typically provides a list of default powers afforded a Trustee, and an average do-it-yourself Trust references these default powers. However, this list is far from exhaustive, and there are countless real-life scenarios that can test the limits of a do-it-yourself Trust and cause turmoil for your loved ones. For instance, do you want your Trustee to be able to mortgage your home to pay your child’s tuition? What about to pay medical expenses? These issues are generally not addressed in default provisions. Without express permission in the Trust, a mortgage company is likely to be hesitant to let your Trustee sign on the dotted line.
Consider another scenario: on its face, naming beneficiaries is a deceptively simple task. Just pick who you want your assets to go to, and your job is done. Unfortunately, life can prove more difficult than that. For instance, imagine you want your property to be divided equally among your children Andy, Bob, and Carol. It seems easy, but what if Bob dies before you do? Should his share of your property go to his descendants, or should it get divided between Andy and Carol? And, if Bob’s share goes to his descendants, exactly who are they? It’s not always an easy call. For instance, what if Bob has natural children and step-children? Are they all treated equally? The waters can get muddied very quickly, and a well-planned Trust can eliminate a good bit of expensive legal wrangling.
These issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Qualified estate planning attorneys have experience in dealing with their clients’ real-life issues. Anticipating these issues and providing clarification and solutions ahead of time means that, while a good Trust document might be lengthy, it is also more likely to result in your wishes being carried out without complications.
When it comes to Trusts, short and sweet is not always better. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you establish a Trust that is thorough and effective.
By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys