Given that almost two-thirds of Americans do not have a will, I think that many people believe that estate planning is too expensive and time-consuming and therefore not worth it. If you have a very large and/or complicated estate, it certainly does cost more money and take more time than for the average Joe or Jane. But even in those more extreme situations, I would say that the money and time spent are worth it many times over.
However, let’s just talk about the average Joe or Jane out there for now. For them, getting a will and any other basic estate planning documents created is now less expensive (inflation adjusted prices of course) and less time-consuming than ever before. Why is this true? I think it’s mostly because of technology. Like so many other areas in the economy, the internet, better software, better cyber-security, etc. have enabled legal services to be delivered more efficiently and effectively. This has lowered prices and reduced the time it takes to obtain these services.
In fact there are firms like mine that don’t even require a face-to-face meeting with the lawyer. You can work with him or her over the phone and via your computer. This inherently saves time and money. But of course, you can still meet at the attorney’s office or even at your own home or office if the attorney’s practice is set-up that way. The way business is done these days is changing for every segment of the economy, and this includes the legal profession, perhaps one of the slowest to change professions in the world.
But there’s still one other very important aspect to answering the question about whether estate planning is worth the time and expense. There is the issue of what it costs in time and money if you don’t have an estate plan in place.
Rest assured that if you don’t have a will and/or trust in place, it will cost your family a heck of a lot more money to distribute your assets after you’re gone. And on top of that, when you do it this way, you don’t get to decide where those assets go. The state uses very strict rules for doing this, and it could end up being done very differently than you would have wanted, perhaps even in a way that is harmful to your family.
And estate planning isn’t just about a will and/or trust. What if you become incapable to make decisions for yourself, i.e. you get declared incompetent due to an accident or health issue? Without a power of attorney in place or a guardianship declaration in place, it could end up costing your family a lot more time and money to get things taken care of. Guardianship proceedings alone can be quite expensive. Yet a simple form or two created at a very low cost could easily prevent all that.
I could go on and on with other examples, but I think you catch my drift. Estate planning doesn’t at all have to be expensive and time consuming. And not having estate planning documents in place will likely end up costing your family many times over in time and money.