Some people see do-it-yourself, online legal forms as an easy and inexpensive way to create estate planning documents, including the last will and testament. They allow consumers to create their estate plans at home on their own computers, without the need for an attorney. However, as our Los Alamitos probate litigation attorneys know, these types of estate planning instruments often lead to probate litigation. So, you may want to rethink that choice.
DIY estate planning documents may not be legally valid
Despite your best efforts, an online will or trust may not be legally valid when it comes time to enforce its provisions. Although using these DIY forms, instead of consulting a licensed estate planning attorney, may save you time and money now, the problems that will likely arise will cause issues for your family in the end. In most cases, the defects in the online forms you create may not be discovered until it’s too late to cure them.
Problems with a DIY will may lead to probate litigation
Our Los Alamitos probate litigation attorneys are all too familiar with the likelihood of DIY estate planning documents ending up the subject of probate litigation. The reality is the families of the consumers that use them find out the consequences the hard way. Consider this Supreme Court case out of Florida, where a woman created her own last will and testament using an online product. In her will, she stated that “all listed” property should go to the named beneficiary.
The problem was, the will did not provide any instructions on how to handle after-acquired property – that is, the property that she later acquired after the online will had been signed. As a result, the family had to go to court and participate in probate litigation in order to determine who the rest of her property would be distributed. This problem could have easily been avoided simply by including a “residuary clause.”
The most common risks of using an online will
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 appears 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, as seen in the Florida case.
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 reconsider using do-it-yourself products when creating an estate plan. Otherwise, your family may need one of our Los Alamitos probate litigation attorneys when it’s all said and done.
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.
If you have questions regarding estate planning, trust contests, or any other trust administration issues, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us in Los Angeles at (310) 337-7696 and in Orange County at (562) 346-3209.
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