If you are considering drafting your own will there are a few things you should consider. Certainly, do-it-yourself estate planning products, like an online will or power of attorney, are easy to come by. But, a cheaper, computer generated online will cannot compare to a professional drafted legal document. Even if the online will you purchase seems professional, there are always certain risks in using DIY products. The primary risk is that the online will may not work the way you expect it to, or it may not be valid.
What is required to create a valid will?
A will is a written legal document that explains exactly how you want your estate to be distributed after your death. Wills are very useful estate planning instruments because they can be modified or canceled at any time while you are still alive. There are various basic provisions that you can consider including in your will. However, not every online will can provide the specific provisions you may need for your estate. For that reason, your online will may not accomplish all of your estate planning goals.
The risks of using an online Will
Before you decide to substitute an online product for professional advice about your estate plan, you should understand the general risks in doing so. While the risks are much higher in complex legal matters, most of the mistakes that occur with DIY Wills relate to how the document was drafted and executed. For example, a common issue clients face is that they failed to have the document witnessed properly, pursuant to the legal requirements in their state. Most states require two witness signatures for a will to be valid. Another problem clients often have is that names were misspelled or notations on the will were unclear, which requires intervention by the court. Some of the mistakes that are commonly seen with DIY products can lead to serious legal issues that cannot always be corrected quickly.
The American Bar Association warns against DIY products
The American Bar Association has actually established a Task Force for the primary purpose of evaluating the use of do-it-yourself products in estate planning. One of the disadvantages of online estate planning products is the false sense of security those documents give the people that purchase them. Most clients aren’t even aware of the mistakes that have been made, so they have no opportunity to correct them before they die, leaving behind an invalid estate planning document.
There may be some cases where an online Will could be sufficient
There are a few limited situations where a do-it-yourself will may be sufficient to meet your needs. For clients who have a limited amount of property, which is owned solely by that person, an online will might be sufficient. An online product works best for clients who intend to leave their property to their closest living relatives. On the other hand, for clients with substantial, complicated assets and different types of beneficiaries, relying on an online will could have serious consequences.
Why consulting an estate planning attorney is a good idea
Although a do-it-yourself will usually seems like a cheaper alternative to hiring an estate planning attorney, the consequences of executing an invalid will must not be overlooked. Not only do you run the risk of leaving your family in financial and emotional chaos, but your estate could be significantly reduced after incurring legal fees or unnecessary taxes.
Estate planning attorneys have the necessary legal expertise
The job of an estate planning attorney is to provide expert legal advice. That is important in an area of the law that typically involves drafting complex legal documents. Those documents can result in serious legal consequences is not drafted properly. Therefore, as the Task Force established by the American Bar Association suggests everyone to reconsider using do-it-yourself products when creating an estate plan.
Estate planning is hardly a one-size-fits-all
The possibility of making mistakes in executing online Wills is not the only reason you should reconsider using them. Wills, as well as other estate planning documents, should be customized. No two clients have the same family dynamic or financial resources. For that reason, it is important to work with an estate planning attorney who has the experience and knowledge necessary to create the perfect plan.
Download our FREE estate planning worksheet! If you have questions regarding the use of an online will, or any other estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group for a consultation, either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.