A number of years ago, I purchased 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.  Two weeks later I became stranded again, and after paying for yet another tow, the mechanic quickly diagnosed the problem as an alternator and battery issue.  Less than a month later, 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 to 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.  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 estate planning 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’ve seen 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 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.

For additional reading:

Estate Planning Procrastination

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