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Saturday, June 16, 2012

The do-it-yourself appendix removal kit

Is it really that hard to draw a line between what you know how to do well, and what you don't? For example, I'll put gas into my car but I wouldn't try to rebuild the engine. I'll choose blinds for my windows but I won't attempt to install the windows themselves. I can usually find that dividing line without too much trouble.

An unfortunate consequence of economic ups and downs is a tendency for people to do things themselves to save money. They frame their own art, colour their own hair, make their own wine, change the oil in their vehicles and rent U-Hauls instead of hiring movers. Sometimes they take on too much.

Doing it yourself only makes sense if you really know how to do it. Maybe you know cars well and changing the oil is something you thoroughly understand. So go right ahead. For me it isn't something I know well so I don't attempt it. I don't want to suffer the consequence of damaging my car.

Why are people so cavalier about consequences? Is it that they don't believe there are consequences, or that they think the downside is pretty small? Is saving money worth having a negative result? Surely they cannot think that they can do an unfamiliar task to the same standard as an experienced heavy equipment operator, doctor, chef or engineer? You know, people can tell you painted your own walls when there are splashes on the ceiling and the electrical sockets are painted over.

These days people are even doing their own estate planning, regardless of the heavy price paid by family members. What's next, a do-it-yourself appendix removal kit? Do-it-yourself laser eye surgery? Some things are better left to the experts.

Maybe a painted-over electrical outlet doesn't seem like much of a problem to you. Home-made estate planning, on the other hand, gives rise to financial and family problems that take their toll on everyone left behind. Kids fight over who is meant to run Dad's business now that he's gone. They argue over whether to pull the plug on Mom, who is lingering in the hospital. The family cottage becomes a war zone as everyone wants to do something different with it. Family relationships are forever broken and money slides irretrievably down the drain.

Estate planning is rarely a good candidate for do-it-yourself activity. Where a person's estate is absolutely simple, it can work. But for anyone with significant assets, a blended family, a handicapped child, a divorced child, an illegitimate child, a business, a cottage, a rental property, property in another country - you get my point - should consult an expert to get advice with estate planning.

Save the do-it-yourself impulse for things you know well. Have the smarts to know your own limits and look for experienced advice for the rest.

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