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The simple answer to this question is yes: Don’t do it yourself! Think about TV shows that are prefaced by the phrase, “Don’t try this at home!” Generally, that label should be on every bit of estate planning advice consumers receive.

Although it’s easy to make an estate plan, it’s very hard to make one that meets your goals and actually functions properly.

The truth is that most off-the-shelf estate plans don’t work. One of the primary reasons for this is poor design by the plan creator. One-size-fits-all estate planning documents are about as effective as a one-size-fits-all suit. Look at the image below to see how well that turned out. Someone’s going to be embarrassed and it’s not going to be the tailor/document vendor. Sadly, most people have no clue how embarrassing their estate plan is until it’s needed — when they’ve become disabled or have passed away. At that point, it’s too late to fix the situation, because you can only change your estate plan if you are alive and not disabled.

Creating a successful estate plan is much more complicated than you might think.

For example, take what happened with Warren Burger, 15th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1969-1986). He was one of America’s brightest legal minds but was unfamiliar with the intricacies of estate planning. He improperly drafted his own estate plan — and while the final figure of what it cost his family isn’t known, it was estimated that his son and daughter could have paid more than $450,000 in taxes as a result of the poor planning.1

Don’t make the same mistake as Chief Justice Burger. Instead, work with an attorney who is an expert in estate planning to help you craft a plan based on your personal goals. Estate planning is far too important to treat as a “try-it-at-home” project.


The information provided is general in nature, is for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Financial Engines does not provide legal or tax advice. Financial Engines cannot guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws which may be applicable to a particular situation may have an impact on the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of such information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. Changes in such laws and regulations may have a material impact on pre- and/or after-tax investment results. Financial Engines makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use. Financial Engines disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.
1 Warren, E. (5 November 1995). Warren Burger’s Will. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from