These days, you can find anything online or in a book, even a Will. The DIY legal industry is quick to put out generic forms that anyone can use. They are a quick, cheap, and easy form of estate planning. But are they effective?
There’s a saying that you get what you pay for. This is certainly true when it comes to Wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents. While I don’t advocate paying more than you have to, there is such a thing as paying too little. The only way a Will or other legal document can be produced for a cheap price is by making it as broad and generic as possible. It may also not address common legal scenarios that would require an attorney to discuss and solve when creating your Will.
Here are some common problems that occur when you choose to not use a lawyer to create a Will:
- No Legal Advice – When doing your own Will, you do not have access to a lawyer to discuss the specifics of your situation. A website or book might do a great job of speaking about the law in general but it cannot tell you what you should do or how the law might apply to you specifically. Even attorneys on call or by chat are no substitute because they do not take an interest in your case or engage in the sort of broad conversation that in-person attorneys use to determine how to advise you and prepare your documents.
- Ineffective Execution – To be valid, a Will must follow what are called “signing protocols.” These requirements change from state to state and over time. An improperly signed document may mean that the will is completely invalid, even if it isn’t being challenged. This is such a common problem that when presented with a Will created by someone else, I immediately check to see if it was validly created before reviewing any of the language in the Will.
- No State Specific Documents – Wills, trusts, probate, and other estate planning laws are found in state laws, not federal. Each state not only has written statutes but they also have a separate case law history that attorneys must keep in mind. So something lawfully created in one state might be problematic in another. A generic will that don’t include state specific language and features is not going to help you or your heirs settle your estate.
- Out-of-Date Law – The law is always changing in evolving. Even when statutes don’t change, the courts are busy putting new interpretations on existing law. Attorneys are constantly updating their legal library and knowledge. But generic statements of law and wills found online or in books are rarely updated. If there an out-of-date document or law is relied upon, it might result in confusion, litigation, or even having your Will dismissed entirely.
- Inconsistency With Other Estate Planning Documents – Typically, people creating their own Will create their estate plan piecemeal. The format used in one document might not be used in another. This allows certain inconsistencies to occur in who is in charge of your estate, who gets you property, and even what rules your chosen agents and heirs need to follow. Untangling an estate with inconsistent or conflicting documents often leads to much higher costs and litigation after the fact.
- Failure To Properly Distribute Property – Ideally, a Will is supposed to distribute property to loved ones. But a poorly drafted will might distribute property incompletely or to incorrect persons. Since a Will might not be used for many years, a lot can change regarding your property or the people who are to receive it. In that case, who gets what can be a hotly debated topic.
- Failure To Avoid Probate – Too often, people creating their own Will believe that doing so avoids the hassles and costs of probate. Nothing can be further from the truth. A Will can be thought of as instructions to the probate court on how your estate should be handled and distributed. There are other solutions that can work better to transfer property to heirs that might not be explored when not creating a Will with a lawyer.
Hidden Mistakes Cause Big Problems For Your Heirs
After your death, there are few options to correct mistakes and shortcomings. Even if you told your family and loved ones what you thought your Will did and how it was supposed to act, that is usually not enough. Even where your family can prove you an innocent mistake was made and what your true intention was, it might require your heirs to take the matter to court before it can be resolved. They will have to endure the costs, headaches, and uncertainties of settling your estate.