If you are considering drafting your own will maybe you shouldn’t. Certainly, do-it-yourself estate planning products like wills and powers of attorney have become more readily available. However, an inexpensive, computer generated DIY will cannot compare to a professional drafted legal document. Even if the DIY will you purchase may appear to be professional, there are always certain dangers in using DIY products. The risk is that it may not work the way you expect or it may even be invalid.
The basic requirements for drafting a will
The Last Will and Testament, or will for short, is a written legal document that defines precisely how you want your estate to be distributed at your death. Wills are very useful estate planning instruments in that they can be modified or even canceled at any time while you are still living. There are several basic provisions that you should consider including in your will. However, not all DIY wills can provide those specific provisions, therefore, your will may not accomplish all of your estate planning needs.
The dangers of using a DIY Will
Before you make the decision to substitute professional advice with an online product, you need to understand the general risks of doing so. Indeed, the risks are much higher in complex legal matters such as estate planning, Most of the mistakes that occur with DIY Wills relate to how the document is drafted and executed. For instance, a common problem clients face is that they failed to have the document witnessed correctly, based on the legal requirements in their state. In many states, a valid will requires two independent witnesses signing at the same time. In some states, it is required that at least one witness is not a beneficiary. Other common problems include misspelled names and ambiguous notes that ultimately require interpretation by a court.
Heed the warnings from the American Bar Association
Some of the errors that are commonly seen with DIY products can easily result in serious legal issues – issues that cannot always be quickly corrected. The American Bar Association has established a Task Force for the purpose of evaluating the use of do-it-yourself products used in estate planning. Ultimately, the greatest danger clients face in attempting to prepare their own estate plan using do-it-yourself products is the false sense of security those documents give. When a client is unaware of the mistakes that have been made, they have no real opportunity to correct those mistakes, leaving them with an invalid estate planning document.
There are some situations where a DIY Will may work
There are a few very limited circumstances in which a do-it-yourself will may be sufficient to meet your needs. In cases where a client may have limited property, all owned solely by the client, a DIY will might suffice. It would work best if the client intends to leave that property to their closest living relatives. However, if a client has substantial, complicated assets, as well as various types of beneficiaries, attempting to rely on a DIY will could have serious consequences.
Why consulting an estate planning attorney is better
While a do-it-yourself will may seem like a cheaper alternative to hiring an estate planning attorney, the consequences of executing an invalid estate planning document must not be overlooked. Not only do you run the risk of leaving your family in financial and emotional turmoil, but your estate could be significantly reduced due to more expensive legal fees or unnecessary taxes.
Estate planning attorneys have the legal expertise you need
The job of an estate planning attorney is to offer expert legal advice in an area of the law that often involves drafting complex documents. Those documents have the potential of resulting in serious legal consequences is not drafted carefully. For that reason, the Task Force established by the American Bar Association encourages everyone to reconsider using do-it-yourself products when creating an estate plan.
Estate planning is rarely a one-size-fits-all process
The possibility of errors in executing DIY Wills is not the only reason you should reconsider using those products. Wills, as well as other estate planning documents, should be customized. No two clients have the same family or financial situation. Therefore, it is important to work with an estate planning attorney who has the experience and knowledge to help you create the perfect plan. Otherwise, your estate plan may not be valid or may not operate the way you intended.
If you have questions regarding a DIY Will, or any other estate planning matters, contact Gersh Law Offices, P.S.C. for a consultation either online or by calling us at (502) 423-7023.