In this computer age, when so many tasks are accomplished via the internet — including banking, shopping, and important business communications — it may seem logical to turn to the internet when creating a legal document such as a will. Certainly, there are several websites advertising how easy and inexpensive it is to do this. As tempting as it may be, creating a will is not something most people should do themselves.
While the internet can be a wonderful tool, it also contains a tremendous amount of erroneous, misleading, and even dangerous information. As with so many do-it-yourself projects, creating a will most often ends up being a more efficient, less expensive process if you engage the services of a qualified attorney. Just as most of us are not equipped to do our own plumbing repairs or automotive repairs, most of us do not have the background or experience to create our own legal documents, even with the help of written directions.
What the Internet Forms Don’t Always Tell You
While the companies that sell internet will forms want you to believe their form will be all that you need, that is often not the case. Evidence that many complications can arise when an individual creates a will using generalized online directions can be found in the following facts:
- Each state has its own specific rules concerning the validity and enforceability of wills (e.g. requiring differing numbers of disinterested party signatures).
- Even uncontested wills can get stuck in probate if not executed in an exacting fashion.
- The websites themselves recommend bringing in an attorney in all but the very simplest cases and some websites provide inexpensive monthly legal consultations with attorneys to protect their client and themselves.
Estate planning attorneys often find legal software programs and the wills they create inadequate. In fact, many estate planning attorneys have seen, and often been asked to repair, DIY wills created from internet forms containing significant problems. As with many other professions, it is almost always more expensive and more difficult to fix a DIY problem then it is to hire the professional from the start. In the context of estate planning, if the problems aren’t discovered until after your death, your loved ones could wind up in court, spending thousands of dollars to contest ambiguously worded or incomplete wills.
Some of the most common DIY mistakes include:
- Naming an executor who has no financial or legal knowledge
- Leaving a bequest to a pet (legally, you must leave the bequest to an appointed caretaker)
- Putting conditions on payouts to an that are difficult, or impossible, to enforce
- Making unusual end-of-life decisions or puts living will information into the will
- Designating guardians for children, but neglects to name successor guardians
- Neglecting to coordinate beneficiary designations where, for example, the will and insurance policy designations contradict one another
- Leaving funeral instructions into the will since the document will most likely not be read until after the funeral has taken place
- Leaving inexact or ambiguous instructions dealing with blended families
- Neglecting to mention small items in the will which, though of small financial value, are meaningful to loved ones and may cause contention
In order to ensure that you leave your assets in the hands of those you wish, and to avoid leaving your loved ones with bitter disputes and expensive probate costs, it is always wise to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney when making a will. In this area, as in so many others, it is best, and safest, to utilize the experience of a professional and avoid the DIY mess.