[See our Disclaimers page about relying on this website’s contents.]

Imagine if youDunce2 could buy a do-it-yourself book by noted computer software guide author Dan Gookin entitled: Brain Surgery for Dummies. How about a book entitled: Bypass Surgery for Dummies? Such titles seem ridiculous, but today’s self-help society encourages people to read simple books and tackle complex projects. Some projects are more complex or dangerous than the authors let on. This trend is particularly worrisome when people try to write their own wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.

Don’t Ruin-It-Yourself

Self-help aids fail because they can’t simplify and explain in simple terms the huge volumes of statutes, regulations, and court opinions issued by the United States and the State of Indiana each year. The Court of Appeals decided about 2,000 cases per year and Indiana Supreme Court actually reviewed 995 cases in 2013, many of which impacted estate planning topics such as retirement account planning, annuities, life insurance, gifts, nursing home planning, Medicaid applications, account ownership, real estate transfers, property ownership, trusts, wills, powers of attorney, healthcare decisions, POD and TOD accounts, guardianships, and property taxes. The Indiana Probate Code, which includes the rules for wills and the administration of estates of dead people, contains 275 separate statutes, with revisions, deletions, and additions every year. The Indiana Health Coverage Program Policy Manual (IHCPPM) covers 27 chapters and contains thousands of pages of details affecting eligibility for assistance to pay home healthcare and nursing home expenses, also with revisions, deletions, and additions every year. A Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyer must log at least 12 classroom hours of expert-level training every year and submit to a recertification review every five years to remain certified. How can a computer software application organize that much information for an untrained person to make wise decisions and keep the information up-to-date as the law changes? Of course, it is impossible.

How Bad Can It Get?

The consequences of poor planning depend on the stakes. A bad plan could cause the wrong people to inherit wealth or disqualify a disabled beneficiary from critically important public assistance benefits. An incomplete plan could miss important issues such as life support and long-term care. A lawyer can fix some parts of a defective or incomplete plan in a pinch, but the cost of curing a bad plan can be more expensive than the cost of hiring a qualified lawyer to design an appropriate plan in the first place.

Don’t Let Others Ruin It Either

Some people stick their necks out further by letting other untrained people to prepare their estate plans for them. Several people have brought such plans in to our firm for examination and the plans were riddled with errors in each. The only thing worse than a non-lawyer writing his or her own plan is letting another non-lawyer prepare the plan. Few people realize that it is a crime to prepare a will, trust, or power of attorney for a fellow Hoosier unless you are a licensed Indiana attorney. Indiana Code § 33-43-2-1 makes it a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to 180 days and a fine of up to $1,000. Even if a person believes falsely that she can write a will or trust for another person, she is committing a misdemeanor if she prepares such documents for anyone other than herself. A misdemeanor is a crime, whereas a traffic violation, such as illegal parking or speeding, is merely an infraction. Only severe traffic violations such as driving while intoxicated or reckless driving are serious enough to constitute crimes.

Estate Planning Is For Experts – Not “Dummies”

Consider carefully whether the benefits of planning your own estate justify the risks. An old adage says “A lawyer, who represents himself, has a fool for a client.” What does that say about a person, who prepares his own estate plan without an experienced lawyer’s expertise?

2014 LogoFind more information about mediation, estate and business planning, wills, trusts, and Medicaid issues for nursing home residents on this website, like our Facebook page, or follow Jeff R. Hawkins on Twitter  for the latest information.

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers. Jeff is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel  and the 2014-15 Indiana State Bar Association President . © Copyright 2015 Hawkins Law PC.