If you are thinking about drafting your will on your own, you may want to reconsider. If you want to remodel your bathroom, do-it-yourself may be a great way to go. But when it comes to estate planning tools, a DIY will is really not the best choice. Despite their low cost and simplicity, they may not provide the accuracy and security that you should be able to rely on when creating an estate plan.
The basics of drafting a Will
The Last Will and Testament, or will for short, is a very useful legal document describing to everyone who survives you exactly how you want your property distributed after your death. Wills are very useful because they can be easily customized and they can be modified or even revoked at any time while you are still living. However, regardless of its simplicity, there are so many options when it comes to the specific provisions that you can include in your will. In other words, there is no basic template you should follow. Estate planning is typically not one-size-fits-all.
Using a DIY Will is very risky
Deciding to use a DIY will instead of the professional services of an estate planning attorney, you should consider the risks that are involved. Estate planning, in general, can be very complex as there are so many variables that must be considered in order to draft the appropriate estate planning documents. Even more basic than that, wills are legal documents that must be drafted and executed in a particular way in order to assure that they are valid.
For instance, the most common mistake that people make when using a DIY will relates to how the document is executed. Most states require at least two witnesses signing the will at the same time the person creating the will executes the document. Each state has different requirements and some require that the witnesses be independent, meaning that they are not beneficiaries and have no interest in the will. If the will is not executed properly, in accordance with the applicable laws, then it will not be valid. That means, when the time comes, the terms of the will may not be enforceable.
Warnings against the use of DIY Wills in estate planning
The reality is even simple mistakes can lead to serious legal consequences when it comes to DIY wills. Most of the problems are not recognized until it is too late. Many of the problems cannot be rectified with a few simple modifications. Once you have passed on it is too late, in some cases, to fix the problems. For this and other reasons, the American Bar Association has strongly warned against using a DIY will. In fact, the ABA has gone so far as to create a task force for the purpose of evaluating the risks of using certain do-it-yourself methods in estate planning, including DIY Wills.
In very limited cases a DIY Will may be sufficient
In some very narrow circumstances, a do-it-yourself will may be sufficient to satisfy your goals in estate planning. Generally speaking, if you have a few assets which are solely owned by you and you intend to leave all of those assets to your closest living relative, then a DIY will might suffice. However, if you have substantial assets of a complex nature and you intend to leave those assets to various different beneficiaries, using a DIY will is not wise. If you don’t handle those bequeaths appropriately there could be serious consequences and your intentions will not ultimately be realized.
The wisdom in consulting an experienced estate planning attorney
While a do-it-yourself will may appear at first glance to be a cheaper alternative, the repercussions you or your family might face could be devastating. At best, your property will not be distributed as you intended. At worst, your entire will could be invalid and your estate will be left to the laws of intestate succession. Not having a proper estate plan could leave your family in financial and emotional despair, not to mention the unnecessary taxes and fees that might result.
Let your estate planning attorney do his job
It is your estate planning attorney’s job to provide legal advice with regard to wills. Estate planning is generally a complex area of the law, as the legal documents created must meet various technical requirements. If an estate planning document is not drafted properly, in accordance with applicable law, the outcome is uncertain. For these reasons, clients are encouraged to rethink the use of DIY estate planning documents.
If you have questions regarding DIY wills, or any other estate planning matters, contact Gaughan & Connealy for a consultation either online or by calling us at (913) 262-2000.
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