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How “Shopping Around” for An Estate Plan Could Leave Your Family With an Expensive, Unintended Mess


Maybe you’ve heard that before investing in a professional service you should “get three estimates.”  This is often wise advice, but it’s actually a bad idea when it comes to estate planning. Hear me out. This article explains why and how you can ensure you get the most efficient and affordable plan possible for your family without shopping estate planning lawyers the way you may think.

Let’s begin with why “getting three estimates” for an estate plan doesn’t work to actually get you what you want.

First and foremost, this recommendation assumes that you should be shopping for an estate plan based on cost and that you understand exactly what you are shopping for and how to evaluate those estimates.

Shopping for an estate plan based on getting the lowest cost plan possible is the fastest path to leaving your family with an empty set of documents (maybe in a beautiful binder, but not worth the paper they are written on) that won’t actually work for your family when they need it.

Unfortunately, I frequently see the negative effects of cheap estate planning when family members come to me during a time of grief. They've got that fancy binder. Sometimes it is the printout of their loved one's online form will stuffed in a filing folder. It sat on the shelf or in a drawer for years sending out signals of false security, full of out of date estate planning documents. Now the family finds themselves headed to Court, or in the midst of conflict, even though that’s exactly what their loved one thought they had paid someone to handle for them.

An Illustrative Story For You About a $3,000 Plan That Didn’t Work
By Alexis Neely, America’s Personal Family Lawyer® 

When I was in law school, my father-in-law died. He had spent $3,000 to work with a law firm down in Florida to create estate planning documents that he was told would keep us out of Court and out of conflict with his ex-wife when he died or if he became incapacitated. 

He got a nice thick set of documents, a fancy binder, and peace of mind. He put the binder on his shelf, never looked at it again and never heard from his lawyer again. He died thinking it was all handled.

You can imagine our surprise then when after his death, we were stuck dealing with the probate court and his ex-wife. The exact things my father-in-law had spent good money to protect us from having to deal with.

It turns out that his fancy set of documents had never been updated, so they were out of date. And his assets weren’t even titled in the name of his estate plan.

I thought for sure, this must have been malpractice. But after going to work at one of the best law firms in the Country, and then surveying hundreds of other lawyers just to confirm, I found out that this was not malpractice at all.

This was common practice.

Lawyers everywhere were putting in place form documents that they know won’t work when their clients’ families need them, not because they are bad people or bad lawyers, but because that’s how they were trained.

Form documents, no updating of the documents or regular communication with the clients once the plan was done, no inventory of the assets to ensure that all assets could be found after the death or incapacity of a loved one, not ensuring that assets were titled properly to make sure the plan even worked.

On top of that, I later discovered that the plans lawyers were putting in place for families with minor kids at home had huge holes that left the kids at risk of being taken out of the home and into protective custody while the Will and named guardians were located.

Even at the best law firm in the Country, which I worked at for three years after law school. 

When I left to start my own law firm, I made a commitment to create something truly meaningful for my clients, plans that would actually work when their families needed it and provide not only true peace of mind, but a process that would support my clients to not just plan for death, but to become better parents, better business owners, and better community citizens during life, as well.

Now Personal Family Lawyer® members across the globe are being trained the right way to plan for families and be there for your loved ones when you can’t be. 

I heard Alexis speak not long after my grandmother died. My family was in a similar situation where my grandmother's trust assets were not properly updated and accounts were not properly funded to the trust. She spent over $4,500 on her plan (I know this because the invoice and engagement letter were still in her binder)! Unfortunately, I was not licensed in the state where she lived when she had her estate plan prepared and by the time she died, the lawyer had retired. This story above was what drew me to become a certified Personal Family Lawyer®. I didn't want another family to go through what my parents went through fixing my grandmother's estate after her death when they should have been focused on healing.

Here’s 5 reasons why shopping for the cheapest estate plan is likely to leave you with a plan that won’t work for your family … and will leave them with a big mess instead. 

1. The least expensive plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on once you’ve left the attorney’s office. Your life changes, the law changes, and your assets change over time; your plan needs to keep up with those changes.

And, the truth of the matter is that a lawyer can’t afford to provide anything more than documents that won’t get updated when you only pay a few hundred dollars for a plan. The business model simply doesn’t work. 

2. That’s why cheap estate plans are often sold by financial professionals or online services  who want to get their hands on your money, not do right by your family. Sometimes it is newbie lawyers out of school or retirees that just need cash in the door and quick forms are easy.

An attorney who has built a practice focused on service and what is in their client's best interests cannot make a living selling $399 plans; only insurance and financial professionals getting paid commissions to sell your families annuities and life insurance products they don’t need can make a living selling cheap documents. Buyer beware!

3. Forms and documents won’t be there for your family when you can’t be. You want to leave your loved ones with a relationship with a trusted advisor that you have built during your lifetime, and who has met your family, has their best interest at heart, and with whom you have built that trust.

4. You get what you pay for and it’s your family that pays the price -- as you read in the story in the above box, my colleague’s father-in-law died after paying $3,000 for an estate plan (not cheap) so that his family wouldn’t have to deal with the probate court or his ex-wife after his death, and yet that’s exactly what happened when he died -- his family was in court and dealing with his ex-wife. If I hadn't been practicing when my grandmother died, my family would have had to hire a lawyer to sort out her plan as well. Why?Because those law firms were traditional "forms and documents" firms that delivered finished plans, but didn’t make sure assets were owned in the right way or the plan stayed up to date over time. You might think that’s malpractice, but it’s not. It’s common practice (as Alexis said) and it leaves your family at risk if and when something happens to you!

5. An estate plan isn’t a "set it and forget it" kind of thing, it needs to stay up to date with changes in your life, the law, and your assets. There’s currently more than $1billion (you read that right) in unclaimed property held by our state. It typically gets there when someone dies or becomes incapacitated and their family loses track of it because it wasn’t tracked well during life.  And that’s just one way your family loses out if you’ve shopped around for the cheapest estate plan rather than getting in place a plan that actually works for the people you love.

If what you want is the false security of a cheap estate plan, go online and do it yourself. Chances are, you haven’t done that because you know that’s risky business and you love your family too much for that.

Well, it’s the same way when you are shopping around town for the cheapest plan possible. Because you love your family, you don’t actually want the cheap plan, you want the plan that’s going to work for your the people you love, when they need it. Of course we all want affordable. Affordable is very different than cheap. I recognize the cost of good planning is a lot. It is. It's also valuable. If you know you want to do your planning the right way but worry about budget let me know. There are a number of options - at no cost to you - for payment plans and options. Send an email to [email protected] if you want to know more. 

If you want to know more about how to find an attorney that is right for you, check out the following free guides, reports, and articles:

The 5 Questions to Ask When Hiring an Estate Planning Lawyer 

How Much Should an Estate Plan Cost?

Does My Internet Will Hold Up?

The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts. 

In the meantime, if you already have an estate plan in place and you are concerned you may have gotten a cheap plan that won’t actually serve your family when they need it most, contact me for a plan review consult

Click the photo to learn about my unique planning process, which starts with a Family Wealth Planning Session:


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This article is a service of Sarah Breiner, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. What is a Personal Family Lawyer®? A lawyer who develops trusting relationships with families for life.

You can begin by contacting Sarah today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session. 


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