Cheap Estate Planning Isn’t Cheap

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The persistent lurching sensation began as I drove my car down the tight country road.  I looked down to see if I had fuel, but a half tank remained.  I quickly rationalized that the lurch must be an uneven road surface.  My car passed over a creek and came upon a small home with red slat siding and decaying shake shingles.  Just then the car lurched again, the dashboard lights came on, and I rolled to a stop in front of the home.  I shifted into park and switched off the ignition.  Not wanting to believe that there could be yet another problem with my vehicle, I tried in vain to turn over the motor.  A feeling of dread sank in as I realized that my car had stranded me yet again. 

Just six weeks earlier I had purchased my car, a compact sedan, for $1500 cash from the family of an elderly man who had just quit driving.  My father had cautioned me that “you get what you pay for” and recommended that I spend enough to get something reliable.  However, I had rationalized that the car had fairly low mileage and I couldn’t imagine that it would need much maintenance.  Besides, I wanted to spend my money on other things.

My $1500 car ran well for the first month until one day when it failed to start in front of a friend’s home, and I was forced to spend over $500 on a new fuel pump, not to mention the cost of towing and lost salary from missing work that day.  I had shrugged it off and figured that after the repair, the car should be good to go for a while.  But now, only two weeks later, I was stranded again, and I wondered what it was going to cost me this time around?

Three hours later, and after paying for yet another tow, the mechanic quickly diagnosed the problem as an alternator and battery issue.  Parts, labor, and the tow to the mechanic’s shop came to another $500.  I looked at him pleadingly:  “Do you think that my car will be alright to drive for a while after this?”  “Hard to say,” the mechanic grunted, wrenching on a bolt. 

I should have taken the mechanic’s uncertainty seriously.  I was less than a month after this second costly repair that my car began smoking and burning inordinate amounts of motor oil.  I ignored the problem at first, but after a while it was obvious that something needed to be fixed, so I again took my car into my mechanic.  This time he diagnosed my car with two burned engine valve stems, a problem that requires the motor be rebuilt or replaced.  Either of these choices would set me back over $1200.  Given my car’s history, I suspected that even if I replaced the motor, something else would go wrong.  After struggling with the decision for a few days, I decided to sell the car to a scrap yard and start over with a newer, nicer car.  This was my first and my last “cheap” car.

The story of my cheap car is ironic because over a short period of time, I ended up spending almost double the initial cost of the car just trying to keep it running.  I had decided to buy the car because I wanted to save money on the initial purchase, but in the end, it turned out to be quite an expensive decision.  My dad was right, and I would have been money, time, and stress ahead if I had just followed his advice to invest in a quality car from the beginning.  In the years since I purchased my “cheap” car, I have found that it is always worth investing in quality goods and services.

Now that I am an attorney, I see that my dad’s advice to invest your money in quality is just as true for getting a will or trust as it was about buying cars.  There are many “cheap” estate planning options available.  Non-qualified internet “experts”, do-it-yourself will and trust drafting software, bank and financial account designations, and even property title changes are some of the common cheap options that I encounter.  I even see some attorneys offer really cheap, boiler-plate wills and trusts from time to time.  Although the initial costs for these estate planning options are cheaper than hiring a good attorney to execute an estate plan customized to your needs, the trouble with the cheap options is that they are cheap!

Cheap estate planning options are usually based on cookie-cutter documents that may not even work for you.  In working with clients who have previously used cheap estate planning options, our firm often finds mistakes that expose clients to huge risks, planning that doesn’t fit the client’s needs, and tax mistakes from supposedly “cheap” planning that costs people lots of tax dollars.  To put it differently, I have helped many clients who previously made the same mistake I made when buying a “cheap” car:  they confuse the upfront cost of getting an estate plan in place with overall cost. 

By investing in a quality estate plan from the beginning, you will find that you save money, protect your family and loved ones, and prevent a lot of headaches and trouble.  Effective estate planning involves the coordination of all the variables of your life.  A good estate plan must to be tailored to your individual needs, which is why you should involve an attorney who will make the effort to create a plan that is customized to work for you.

My law firm specializes in providing customized, high quality estate plans for a very good value.  We will take the time to understand your circumstances, and prepare wills, trusts, entities, or other documents that fit your unique needs.  In my next article, “The Right Estate Plan for You” I will explore some of the scenarios my firm encounters in planning for our clients and how we address our clients’ needs with customized planning.  In the mean time, please call me with any questions you have.

Rustin Diehl
Attorney and Counselor at Law
Allegis Law, PLLC
(801) 938-4035


Disclaimer: My intent in writing this article is to describe estate planning, and this information should not be construed as providing legal advice. Your individual circumstances may not fit what I have written, and you should seek personal advice and counsel from an attorney or tax professional.