Utah estate planning takes many different forms, depending on the consumer’s needs and knowledge base, as well as the expertise and know-how of the attorney involved. For many families, estate planning is a simple correction in life insurance beneficiary designations. In others, it can be as complicated as multiple business and trust instruments to avoid a high estate tax rate. Regardless of the level of planning needed in any given situation, the problem remains the same: How can a consumer differentiate an overly-expensive plan from a plan that lacks the depth to contemplate their basic needs?
An estate plan can range in price from $50 up to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on what is needed. Many online do-it-yourself living trust services cost a few hundred dollars or less, while a law firm may charge $10,000 or more for any clients in need of estate tax planning. The question remains, which service should the consumer choose? The three main factors to help in this decision pertain to the consumer’s need for expertise, the gaps in efficiency between different providers, and the level of customization required.
The Need for Expertise – Law Firms Win
Estate planning is not rocket science or brain surgery, but there are several moving parts and contingencies. In addition to distribution of assets, a properly-structured estate plan accounts for changing family dynamics, changing asset structures, access to public benefits, dispute mitigation, and other factors. Further, there are many options available to consumers that they may not even know exist.
At most law firms providing estate planning services, the expertise to skillfully handle an estate matter is not in question. Some attorneys can become complacent in their research over time, but this can be easily-vetted through viewing their publication history.
Do-it-yourself options, on the other hand, often fall short in this regard. Demographic surveys that generate an estate plan rarely if ever have the capacity to account for family dynamics, blended family scenarios, and the unique difficulties facing business owners in estate planning.
Efficiency Gaps – Law Firms Lose
Historically, estate planning could be very expensive due to an attorney’s drafting fees. With the technological advancements of the computer and internet age, estate planning has become much more accessible through software automation. For example, most ‘complex’ trusts drafted in the 1980s could be drafted by a basic estate planning computer program within 15 minutes of data entry. This has allowed a much greater level of customization and multi-dimensional planning at an affordable rate.
However, many law firms have not updated their systems or software in years. Some firms use basic templates that have been in the archives for decades, while other firms draft every document from scratch. Ultimately, the consumer bears the costs of inefficiency.
Most online do-it-yourself programs can generate a basic estate plan within minutes for a customer completing a demographic and preference survey. However, while these plans seem to be cost-effective in the drafting phase, a poorly-structured plan can fall apart and cost a family tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to clean-up the damage caused by ineffective planning. Customization is key to any effective estate plan.
Level of Customization – Varies Greatly
The degree to which any estate plan will be effective hinges on that plan’s ability to account for the family, the assets, and the situation at any given time. Do-it-yourself systems consistently fail in this regard. While they may work if one were to take a snapshot of the estate planning situation at the time of the drafting. they rarely account for any substantial changes in the life of the consumer.
Sadly, a consumer’s ability to discern whether an attorney-drafted plan will adapt to new circumstances is nearly impossible. Some attorneys may simply change some names on a generic template found online, while others will draft every word from scratch. Still more may rely solely on a software package to draft an estate plan, while others will use the software as a starting point in an hours-long customization process.
As with assessing an attorney’s expertise, an attorney’s tendency to truly customize an estate plan may be easily assessed by determining whether that attorney takes pride in his or her work through publications. Most estate planning attorneys that truly focus on that practice area tend to publish articles fairly regularly.
At Middle Class Estate Plans, we pride ourselves on the level of expertise and customization we deliver to our clients. Through our innovative client participation system, we are also able to deliver one of the most cost-effective ways for middle class families to plan for their loved ones.