Monday, March 31, 2014

Beware of Trump Cards in an Estate Plan Rule #1 – Not all Documents are created Equal.

This post is the first in the 3-part Blog series: Beware of Trump Cards in an Estate Plan.

Lynn A. Dean,
Estate Planning Attorney
You have decided that you will do an estate plan or you are looking at documents for someone who did estate planning (your friends, or your parents). There are a few rules that you should be aware of from the beginning.  

Not all documents are created equal. Yes, they all say that they are Will or Trusts. But as someone who has reviewed hundred, I can tell you that no two are alike. A good trust should be drafted based upon the situation of the client (single, married, with children, no children, etc.). However, we know that there are “trust mills” out there, and all they do is type in the names of the clients, and push print. You can end up with a “generic” document that makes no sense. Also, there is a recent trend to push “do it yourself” estate planning, with companies like Legal Zoom, Suzie Orman, Willmaker, and Trustmaker kits. Think about it – can software really ask or answer questions? How do you find out what the client wants or probe into areas the client may not have thought of? You have to ask questions based on conversation face to face. I have seen handwritten (holographic) wills, which should be sufficient, but often are not. This rule also applies to documents drafted by attorneys. There are some attorneys who will draft estate planning documents as a “favor” for their clients. These documents may be taken directly from a form book, without the attorney knowing what is important.


There are many clients who call and say “my situation is very simple.” It is invariably not true. The days of Ozzie and Harriet are long gone. We have first marriage, second marriage, third marriage, kids of each marriage, community property, separate property, unmarried couples who buy houses together, etc. To be a good estate planner, you have to know what will work and what won’t.  Some people want ‘guarantees” – “I want to know that this money will go to my children, if my spouse gets remarried.” Most trusts are not guarantees, and the clients need to know that. 

Lynn Dean enjoys having the opportunity to share her expertise on Estate Planning and Elder Law. She is frequently requested to speak around the community. If you or your organization would like Lynn to speak at your next event, please contact The Law Office of Lynn A. Dean for scheduling. View the Lynn A. Dean Speaker Sheet (pdf).

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