Pros and Cons of a Do-It-Yourself Online Will

Do-It-Yourself (1) Recently, there has been a productive surge in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects, ranging from crafts to repairs, but how do you feel about a DIY Will?

By definition, “A will, formally referred to as a last will and testament, is a legal document that is created and executed by someone — the testator — which directs how the testator's assets are to be distributed upon his or her death. An individual may choose to retain the services of a wills and trusts attorney to create a will, or he or she may choose to create his or her own. Do-it-yourself wills, as with all do-it-yourself legal documents, have pros and cons for anyone who chooses to use them.

Some of you might think, “You’re crazy! Why would I ever want to be responsible for something so important?” However, for the truly fearless, not only do you consider it an ample opportunity to prepare yourself for the final phase of your life, but it is a process you want to control from the beginning.

This kind of psychological confrontation may frighten others who are emotionally unprepared to consider what will happen once they are gone. Regardless, when composing such a decisive document one should be greatly aware of the perks and pitfalls of a do-it-yourself online will.

Possible Perks


1. Cost of course!

It is blatantly obvious that many DIY projects offer up the sparkling bonus of reduced costs. Rather than pay a lawyer’s lucrative legal bill you have the potential to save well over 90% by purchasing software or books that will help guide you through the process. Check out some software suggestions and reviews here, here, and here. Like most products many will come with a strong legal warning that might look something like this:

“This product is not a substitute for legal advice from an attorney. We’ve done our best to give you useful, accurate legal information, but that’s not the same as personalized legal advice. If you want help understanding how the law applies to your particular circumstances, or deciding which estate planning documents are best for you and your family, you should consider seeing a qualified attorney.”

Typically, for smaller estates, planning and writing your will on your own through the use of software and forms is generally safe to do; however, as the size of the estate increases so does the complexity of the document. For the downright safe, it will never hurt to have the document double checked by a professional.

2. Adaptability.

Excessive alterations can also accrue a hefty legal bill and while reduced costs were certainly a bonus, for something as fluid as a will, creating a DIY document allows you the freedom to make compositional changes as you see fit, when you see fit without the necessary charges.

This kind of adaptability is also very appealing to some who lead an ever-changing lifestyle that would require them to make such alterations rather than having to wait on the time it would take an attorney to draft up something new. However, beware of creating more work for yourself in the long run and confusing yourself with an unorganized document.

3. Simply having and preparing a will.

Chances are that if you are reading this then you are taking the necessary steps towards composing or altering a DIY will. Maybe you stumbled upon this article by chance and were unaware something so legal and binding was acceptable by a court of law if done properly. Whatever your situation may be, having a will (even a poorly constructed one) is better than having nothing at all. With that being said, let's look at some of the issues of using a do-it-yourself will.

Potential Problems


1. You leave out important legal jargon and clauses.

One of the largest potential problems with self-made wills relates to the law of intestacy which “varies from state to state, [but] establishes a ranking of inheritors [for] people who die without a will or living trust.” But wait— aren’t you avoiding that kind of situation by drafting up a will in the first place? Yes. however, what many DIY enthusiasts don’t recognize is that if the document is not properly composed then the laws of intestacy will apply.

For example, take into consideration the penalties of this horror story that details a father who attempted to disinherit his son:

After forgetting to list some potentially worthless stocks and including what is called a residuary clause, which indicates how to distribute what is left after estate expenses, creditors and taxes have been paid and gifts of specific items or sums of money have been satisfied, through the laws of intestacy, the son was awarded a surprisingly large sum of money he was never originally intended to receive because of an absent clause.


2. You don’t recognize what your state requires of you.

Much like the example above, when you fail to recognize what is required of a will, the greater the chances that your will won’t be carried out the way you intended. A potential mistake includes “what’s called execution – the way these documents are signed and witnessed.” Microscopic details like this vary from state to state. Always investigate your state’s specific requirements for a will before you start so that you have a better chance at success. You may do so here.

3. You make ridiculous demands and bizarre conditions.

Want to leave everything to your pet? Perhaps you want to place a condition on an heir’s payout— like weight loss or graduation? These are both tricky examples, but certainly not unheard of. What many fail to do is consider how these actions will be carried out after they are gone.

In the case of the spoiled pooch the in the eyes of the law, “the consumer is then leaving property to property” and should “be sure to leave the named caretaker with all of the information he or she will need to care for the pet.” When concerning conditions regarding an heir’s payout, this can lead to a long and arduous court process because the “conditions aren’t spelled out with sufficient clarity [or] the conditions are impractical to enforce.” All in all, someone has to stick around and ensure those conditions are met which can add up quite quickly.

Regardless, from young adults to senior citizens, the necessity of having a will that determines where your assets go is crucial and a necessity. You only get one shot at it, so do it right. Go forward knowing that what’s been left behind is sure to end up where you want it!

For help creating a will, click here to contact us and let us help to give you peace of mind that comes from knowing your family is taken care of.


References:

1. http://www.cnbc.com/id/100388275#
2. http://www.forbes.com/2010/09/07/do-it-yourself-will-mishaps-personal-finances-estate-lawyers-overcharge.html
3. http://law.freeadvice.com/estate_planning/estate_planning/estate-planning-lawyer.htm
4. http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/making-living-trust-yourself-29736.html
5. http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/alabama-make-will-32063.html

What Happens When Someone Dies Without A Will?

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A person’s last will and testament is a large part of his/her legacy. Basically, a will serves as an instruction manual for the family and friends of the deceased to carry out his/her final wishes. It can be used to name an executor, name guardians for children and their property, decide how debts and taxes will be paid, provide for pets, and can serve as a backup to a living trust. Sadly, too many people die without a will, leaving their assets to whomever state law determines is most important. To illustrate its imperativeness, let’s look at one well-known example to see what happens when a person dies without having a will:

“As a civil rights activist who faced death threats, it's surprising that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't make a will.  And while Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, today his family is still fighting over control of his estate.  It was only a few years ago that the King children were at odds about how the corporation that had been set up to oversee the estate was being run.  More recently they have started a battle over his Nobel Peace Prize medal and personal traveling Bible - his daughter wants to keep them and his sons want to sell them:  Martin Luther King Jr.’s children battling over estate.” (1)

Although Martin Luther King’s estate is much larger than the average person’s, the take-home lesson is the same: make a will and save your family and friends the complication and agony of arguing over your estate.  

Let’s look at a few general laws determining who gets what when someone dies without a will:

o   Single, no kids:

    • Generally speaking, assets go to the parents (if they are alive) or to the siblings (if the parents aren’t alive). (2)
    • “Jane is single, her parents are still alive, and she has a nephew she adores; she would like to leave him money for his education when she dies. If Jane dies without a will, her property and assets will be distributed to her parents because she is single and has no children or spouse. If her parents were to predecease Jane, her property would go to her siblings—who may or may not pass the money to her nephew for his education.” (2)

o   Single, with kids:

    • Estate will be split evenly between children. This may or may not be desired depending on the circumstances. (2)
    • Let’s say, for example, John has 3 sons. One is 30 with a wife and two kids, one is 24 and single with one kid, and the other is a single, 20-year-old college student. If John were to die today without a will in place, his assets would be evenly distributed among the three children. However, John had always thought he would leave slightly more money to his first two sons due to the fact that they are supporting families. He also wanted his youngest son inherit his paid-for vehicle to get to and from school more reliably. Without a will, that will likely never happen. Instead, the sons will be forced to decide among themselves who gets what assets.

o   Married, no kids:

    • Typically, the spouse’s inheritance depends on state law. Some states allow for one-third of the assets to go to the spouse, with the remainder left to the deceased’s family, while others grant the entire estate to the spouse. To see what Alabama says, continue reading the next section.

o   Married, with kids:

    • According to LegalZoom.com:

“For those who are married with children, the surviving spouses typically inherits one-third to one-half of the estate with the remainder being divided among the children.” (2)

    • Again, check your state’s law to get the facts pertaining to your situation regarding asset distribution and read the next section to see how Alabama views intestate asset distribution.

What does Alabama law say about dying without a will?

Here’s a table to better illustrate how Alabama looks at asset distribution when no will in place (3):

What Happens If You (2)

 

In Alabama:

- If you die with parents but no children, your surviving spouse inherits the first $100,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance. (3)

- If you die with children who were born to you and the surviving spouse. Your surviving spouse inherits the first $50,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance. (3)

- If you die with children who are not the children of your surviving spouse. Your spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property. (3)

Another fact about Alabama intestate law: “half” relatives inherit as if they were “whole.” For example, a half-brother would inherit the same amount as a full-blooded brother would.

When should you get a will and what can you do to get one?

It’s common sense really: if you have assets (money, property, etc.) that other people are dependent on, or if you would simply like to ensure that those assets are left in the right hands, you need a will. If you’ve been married (or divorced), had children, bought a home, started a business, or had serious health issues and you do not yet have a will, now is the time to make one. Additionally, you’ll need to revisit and revise your will on a regular basis (every 4-5 years) to ensure that all assets are accounted for.

Creating a will and dividing an estate can be a daunting task. Consider this when deciding whether you should hire an attorney or go it alone:

- State laws are very specific about what can be in a will, who can serve as a representative of the deceased, and what formalities must be adhered to when signing a will. (4)

- If you use a do-it-yourself tool and make a mistake, your family will be the ones working with an attorney to fix the mistakes you made. As stated by about.com:

“If you think that you'll be saving a few dollars by using forms found on the internet or in a do-it-yourself book to prepare your estate planning documents, then your family will be in for a rude awakening when they learn that part or all of your will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney isn't legally valid or won't work as you had anticipated.” (4)

- Lastly, estate planning and asset distribution can be a very complex task. Hiring an experienced attorney to help counsel and advise through these difficult decisions, and to assist the family post-partum, will prove well worth the time and money spent (not to mention the headaches saved).

To find out more about creating a will for your assets and the well-being of your loved ones, contact us today. A small amount of planning today will provide peace of mind for both you and your family in the future. Sources: