Through online legal document portals, consumers have access to a number of DIY legal documents available on the internet to create their own wills and power of attorney. This may save them money and time. But has the internet really empowered the public to handle their estate planning or does it create many avoidable problems?
Most lawyers agree that using online legal documents may result in errors. While filling up the online documents, one may miss a simple question; some terms may be difficult to understand and may confuse the user and she may fill it incorrectly; and some may not update their online wills when changes are needed. There are numerous examples of a consumer who created an online Will, but had not updated it after some of his beneficiaries died.
I was recently involved in a situation where a decedent, using will kit purchased from an office supply store, created his “Will” with the assistance of his friends. His one and only wish was that his child not be appointed fiduciary and not have any control over the finances. Either because he did not understand the form, or did not complete it, the wish was not upheld and the estate plan virtually worthless. Worse yet, the interested parties spent ten times the amount of an attorney prepared the estate plan fighting to enforce this wish.
An attorney can help in prevent errors and may also help in reviewing and updating the estate plan in case of changes in the family including those through divorce, pre-deceased beneficiaries or new births in the family. An experienced lawyer can show you methods of avoiding costly probate paperwork and court proceedings, and explain the intricacies of using trust funds and exemptions in your asset protection strategy.
If you own no real property or valuable personal property, have only one or two small bank accounts, and have no minor children, you can probably write your own Will, with the assistance of a reputable book, software package or online service. But even on following all the instructions, if the Will is not properly signed, it is presumptively invalid and your beneficiaries will spend large sums of money in legal fees rectifying the errors.
Common errors encountered when you do your own estate planning documents:
1. Failing to sign the Will;
2. Failing to execute the Will, in the presence of witnesses;
3. Invalid witnesses during execution of the Will;
4. Invalid amendments to a Will; and
5. The Will is outdated at the time of death.