If you’re like most people, you may not be aware that only about 45% of all Americans have made out a Last Will and Testament. Given the important role that estate planning plays in end-of-life decisions, that number should come as a shock. Even among those who have created wills, a surprisingly large number of them have written the documents on their own – either from scratch or using one of those free or low-cost do-it-yourself Last Will and Testament forms you can find online. This can present even more problems, since DIY wills may end up costing you more in the end than you would pay to have a competent attorney craft your estate plan.
Why Use a do-it-yourself Will?
The main reason for using a DIY will should be obvious: professional legal services are certainly more expensive than downloading a free form from the internet and filling it out from the comfort of your own home. Many people simply assume that wills are so simple that they shouldn’t need legal assistance to create one. On the surface, of course, that seems like a no-brainer. After all, how difficult can it be to write the words “and to my nephew Horace, I bequeath my favorite cat statue – the one where Tabby is hugging that cute little mouse” – or something along similar lines?
As it turns out, it can be more difficult than some people think. Even those who use those online fill-in-the-blank form wills often do it incorrectly. And since the people and companies who provide those form wills are rarely actual lawyers, they are not even authorized to provide even the simplest types of legal advice to the clients who use their services or products. Still, for many people, saving a few bucks in attorney’s fees seems to be worth the cost of having a will that accomplishes few if any of their actual goals.
What Kind of Risks Do DIY Documents Pose?
As mentioned above, mistakes in the creation of any DIY will are always a real possibility. That’s true regardless of whether you’re simply starting with a blank piece of paper and a pen or a fill-in-the-blank form online. Both of those options require you to lay out the provisions of your will, name an executor, and provide other details – all without the benefit of legal counsel. And since you want your Last Will and Testament to be a legally-enforceable document, making sure that it complies with existing legal requirements has to be a priority.
There are many examples of how these types of simple errors can lead to results that are completely unexpected, and it’s important to understand the types of problem that can be created. For example, you could inadvertently leave an inheritance to someone you actually wanted to write out of your will, leave heirs the wrong assets, or end up with a will that is deemed invalid by the court. Virtually every estate planning lawyer has at one time or another encountered a DIY will that was improperly witnessed – and thus rendered useless since it failed to meet an important legal requirement.
There are monetary costs to those mistakes too. Even simple errors can end up resulting in money going to the wrong people, favorite relatives being denied their due inheritance, or wills that are invalidated – leaving the dispensation of your property at the mercy of the state’s intestacy laws. The worst part of it all is that all of these problems could have been avoided simply by choosing an option other than a do-it-yourself estate planning tool.
Keep in mind that these types of problems are not just limited to those cheap will options either. Low-cost trust forms and other cheap estate planning options are just as vulnerable to costly mistakes. In some cases, you can end up with improperly named executors, trustees, and beneficiaries, or trusts that never get properly funded. Put simply, there are few errors of estate planning that can legitimately be considered safe do-it-yourself projects.
A Lawyer Can Save You Money
It might seem odd to think that an attorney’s services could save you money with something like this, but it’s true. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how costly it can be to make mistakes with things like estate planning. With an attorney’s help, you can rest assured that your estate planning documents will be created error-free, and that they will comply with all of the relevant legal requirement that need to be met if they are to be considered valid legal instruments.
Moreover, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you to evaluate your estate and your end-of-life objectives to ensure that your Last Will and Testament accomplishes everything that you need it to do. Part of that process can involve things like establishing trusts to better manage the care and distribution of your assets, the creation of incapacity plans, long-term care planning, and other important strategic decisions that can impact your estate throughout your life and beyond.
Does it cost money? Of course. But it is important to remember that you could end up costing yourself even more money in the long run if you try to do your estate planning on your own. In most instances, you will end up having to retain an attorney to correct those errors anyway, so it just makes sense to forgo those extra costs later and make sure that the job is done correctly the first time.
At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, our experienced estate planning experts have seen wills of every kind – including those that needed serious revisions to correct glaring errors. We work with all of our clients in and around the Indianapolis area to ensure that each of them has the Last Will and Testament needed to fulfill those basic estate settlement goals. Let us help you avoid the problems that are often created by DIY wills by calling us today at (317) 684-1100, or contacting us at our website.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.