Almost everyone knows by now that it is possible to create your own will. Indeed, many Americans do so every year, either writing them from scratch or using fill-in-the-blank form documents they download from the internet. Of course, being possible and being advisable are not always the same thing. All too often, estate planners end up fixing these types of DIY legal documents when they turn out to be less effective than the client thought. That raises an interesting question-: can a DIY will ever work to meet your needs?
Why People Choose the DIY Option
For most people, the decision to pursue the DIY option is made for financial reasons. They assume – and with good cause – that creating their own will could help them to save money. It is true, after all, that attorneys charge for their services, and that these costs are more than what the average person can expect to pay for a downloadable Last Will and Testament. Those who create their own wills generally want to try to avoid those expenses.
There are other reasons, of course. Some people just don’t want to take the time to sit down with an attorney. Others want to avoid talking about things that reveal personal details or financial information. Still others just want the simplest option, and believe that doing it themselves fits that bill. These are all sound and reasonable reasons to choose the do-it-yourself path, and many people are satisfied with the results that they achieve. That doesn’t mean that their will is sufficient for their needs — that’s something most of them will never know. In most cases, the real value of that DIY document won’t be known until the testator has died and the will is put to the test.
Problems with DIY Wills
As noted, most weaknesses in DIY wills aren’t discovered until it’s time for the will to be used in the probate process. That’s not always the case, though. There are times when testators bring their do-it-yourself wills in to have an estate planning attorney confirm their usefulness. Often, that meeting ends with the identification of a host of problems that need to be corrected before the will can be relied upon to serve its purpose.
For example, many wills are improperly executed. They’re not signed properly, or the witnessing process was done incorrectly. That’s something that’s bound to happen, of course, since the rules for will execution are governed by state law – and states each make their own requirements in that area of law. Since most downloadable forms are of the “one-size-fits-all” variety, it’s unreasonable to expect them to be a perfect solution for everyone who wants a will. The surprising thing is that there aren’t even more problems.
That is not to say that execution is the only area of weakness for these wills. Since they are formulaic, their effectiveness depends in large measure on the testator’s ability to complete the forms properly. Here too there are problems, as some online DIY providers acknowledge. A surprisingly large number of testators fill out the forms incorrectly, leaving them a will that isn’t worth the price of the paper used to print it. In other words, these “simple” DIY wills are often not quite as simple or user-friendly as advertised.
And there’s another area of concern that cannot be ignored: the actual provisions in the will. While courts can sometimes be willing to forgive some minor execution errors, they can do little to overlook will provisions that are so poorly written that they make no sense. That error is a common one when people who have no formal legal training try to craft provisions in a will or other legal document. It’s easy to understand why so many end up with instructions that are basically unenforceable due to wording that lacks the type of specific and exact phrasing needed to express your final wishes.
Can DIY Wills Ever Work?
We shouldn’t be too harsh with these DIY wills, however. There is an argument to be made that they can be adequate for people who require nothing more than the simplest of wills. For example, if your assets are so few that you are sure that probate can be avoided, then a DIY will could be sufficient. The problem there is that many people have no idea when their estates might qualify for that type of probate avoidance – and hope is not a strategy.
The other option is to go forward with your DIY will and then have an attorney look it over to ensure that it meets your needs. Of course, that could end up costing you just as much as you would have spent had you taken the project to a law firm at the beginning of the process. That would kind of defeat the purpose of trying to save money by doing it yourself.
The bottom line then is painfully obvious: there is always a chance that your DIY will could be a suitable option for your estate planning needs. That is, it might work – if the form document that you used does its job, you fill everything out correctly, and somehow manage to make no mistakes. That’s a lot of “ifs” though, so it really comes down to a choice of gambling with your legacy plan or relying on competent professionals who stand behind their work.
Get the Assistance You Need
You won’t find many estate planning attorneys who’ll recommend that you create your own will, though more would be in favor of it if we could rely on them to serve your needs. The fact is that DIY legal documents are always risky, and a DIY will might be the riskiest of all – since inadequacies could end up haunting your heirs after you’re gone. At the Potter Law Firm, our probate and will attorneys can help you to avoid those potential shortcomings by helping you to create an estate plan that gives effect that your last wishes when you die. To learn more about how we can help with all your estate planning need, contact us online or call us today at (704) 944-3245 (Charlotte, NC), (606) 324-5516 (Ashland, KY), or (859) 372-6655 (Florence, KY).
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