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NFL Replacement Referees - An Estate Planning Analogy

Yes, I too was glued to the television screen this past Monday night. While I am a big sports enthusiast, I'm an even bigger fantasy football fan. This particular Monday night, however, I simply enjoyed the game as an unbiased observer. My fantasy football team already earned its first victory of the season and, although I enjoy watching Aaron Rodgers, I don't particularly root for the Packers (or the Seahawks for that matter).

I enjoyed the first three and a half quarters of the game. Seattle's defense stymied the potent Packer offense, great coaching adjustments were made at halftime, and there were enough big plays to make it exciting. Things suddenly took a turn for the worse. I counted five consecutive penalties on Seattle's penultimate possession. The exciting game came to a screeching halt as the replacement referees seemingly took control of the contest. Late flags were thrown (seemingly influenced by coaches or fans’ reactions), phantom pass interference penalties were called, and several game stoppages occurred for "further review." Just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse, Seattle's rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, dropped back to pass as the clock was winding down. Trailing 12-7, the Seahawks needed a touchdown to win. They needed a miracle - instead, the unthinkable ensued...they were awarded a touchdown even though the other team caught the ball in the end zone! Touch....ception? Inter....down? Huh?

What just happened? I sat at the edge of my chair with a befuddled look on my face. The replacement referees made two opposite calls in the end zone; one signaled "touchBACK", while the other signaled "touchDOWN." There was no referee conference to clarify the ruling or make the appropriate call. Since the touchdown call had been made on the field, the play could not be reviewed to determine who had possession. The Seahawks win! Mayhem ensued! Twitterverse on fire!

Now, I really do feel for the replacement officials. I fully believe they are doing the best they possibly can. It’s just simply not good enough. I blame the NFL though. Their product has been tainted because of dollar figures and pension plans. The NFL execs wrongly assumed that anybody can make a “holding” call. In most things in life, there is no substitute for the real thing.

The same holds true for estate planning. I have been asked many times whether do-it-yourself trust and will kits or other make-shift estate plans are equally as effective as an estate plan drafted by a competent attorney. The answer lies comparably with the replacement refs. For three weeks, the referees have performed to critical acclaim. They have made bad calls and the games have been prolonged due to the multiple conferences and reviews. But, until Monday night, no games had been completely ruined because of the referees.
Do-it-yourself estate plans work in the same regard. While some people can execute a plan that fully implements their intentions and considers any legal or tax ramifications, most people are simply ill-equipped to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to ensure their plan is valid and will stand against any and all contests. Do-it-yourself kits cannot account for each individual’s unique circumstances.

The main difference between the replacement referees and estate planning is that estate planning is not a game. A carefully crafted plan provides peace and security to the trust or will-maker. Future generations are also affected. With that said, it is vitally important to discuss your situation with an attorney. A competent attorney will address all of the changing tax laws, utilize the newest drafting mechanisms, and present every hypothetical to ensure your plan is tailor-made to your situation.
Luckily, while we are alive, we can proactively incorporate all of our intentions in our estate plan. Unfortunately, the Green Bay Packers cannot amend the record books.