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.
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.
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.
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.