Countless books, software programs, and do-it-yourself guides promise to help you create your own trust. However, this doesn’t mean that buying a $30 book will deliver the same results as working with an experienced West Michigan estate planning lawyer. Continue reading to learn about some of the pitfalls of online trust forms and other DIY trust methods.

One-Size-Fits-All Trusts Are Really One-Size-Fits-None

While people generally want their estate plan to protect their loved ones’ financial future, we recognize that each of our clients have their own personal circumstances and goals, which is why we tailor every estate planning solution to the client’s unique needs.

However, an online trust form wasn’t written to reflect anyone’s specific needs. They are generic forms that are aimed at doing the least harm, not delivering the most benefit.

RELATED: Is a Living Trust Better Than a Will?

Not only that, but even if a DIY trust form promises “quick and easy” results, creating a trust involves more than simply completing a form and signing it in front of a notary. You also must:

  • Identify the appropriate form of trust for your situation (revocable, irrevocable, testamentary, special needs, etc.)
  • Choose an appropriate trustee
  • Retitle assets and complete deed transfers
  • Properly administer the trust
  • Determine whether you need additional estate planning documents to complement your trust

Creating a trust is a complex process, and it can be difficult to navigate on your own. When you work with an experienced West Michigan estate planning lawyer, he or she can guide you through these steps and make sure everything is handled correctly.

You Need a Trust That Meets Michigan’s Legal Requirements

Every state has its own trust and estate laws. If you mistakenly complete an online trust form meant for residents of Louisiana — a state that has dramatically different laws — then your trust might be completely invalid. When you work with an experienced West Michigan trust lawyer, your trust should meet all our state’s legal requirements.

Books, Websites, and Guides Can’t Give Personalized Legal Advice

Every estate planning book, blog, DIY guide, and software program includes a disclaimer that goes something like this: “We are not a law firm or a lawyer and cannot provide legal advice.” In other words, if you run into a problem or have specific questions, you’re on your own.

In 2011, The Consumerist (a blog owned by Consumer Reports) asked a law school professor to review several wills that were created using online tools. The professor found that the online software frequently:

  • Relied on outdated information
  • Did not discuss state-specific requirements
  • Was inflexible and imposed arbitrary limits
  • Omitted important estate planning issues
  • Did not address estate taxes

While some companies claim that they have lawyers review their software or forms, having an out-of-state lawyer skim over a blank DIY trust form isn’t the same as working one-on-one with an experienced West Michigan estate planning lawyer. Unlike a “legal self-help” website, your trust lawyer can offer detailed legal advice, customize your trust documents based on your specific needs, and help you if problems arise in the future. And, unlike a template-based trust form, a West Michigan lawyer can also help your family administer the trust after your death.

RELATED: Michigan Estate Planning Basics: Everything You Need to Know

DIY Trust Mistakes Can Be Expensive or Impossible to Fix

Too often, we get calls from panicked individuals who discovered problems with a DIY trust. If you’re not an estate planning attorney with legal training and experience, it’s remarkably easy to make mistakes in a trust deed or document, even if you research the process carefully and try to pay attention to the details. This can result in unexpected probate proceedings and estate tax bills as well as problems with real estate titles and asset distribution.

While an estate planning lawyer might be able to fix some of these problems, it can take a lot of time and effort. And most likely, amending a trust or litigating a dispute will cost much more money than what you would have paid an attorney to create personalized, legally-binding trust documents.

Law Offices of Kari Santana: West Michigan’s Trust Team

At the Law Offices of Kari Santana, we work closely with clients in Grand Rapids and throughout West Michigan to create trusts and estate plans that reflect their wishes and meet their families’ needs. We pride ourselves on detailed legal analysis, practical advice, and cost-effective solutions. Before you buy a generic online trust form, contact us for a free consultation and find out what we can do for you.


Morran, C. (2011, July 26). Is there any good software for writing my own will? Consumerist. Retrieved from

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

Request a Consultation