Do-it-Yourself-Wills & Estate Planning – the Big “No No”

Many people recognize the importance of having a Will and other estate planning documents. However, to avoid the cost and time associated with having these documents drafted by an attorney, many people are turning to the Do-it-Yourself method.  Although many experts agree that having a DIY Will is better than having nothing at all, there are many risks involved with creating estate planning documents without the proper guidance. Although you may think you provided all of the necessary information and have all of your wishes laid out clearly, DIY documents often do not pass scrutiny in probate courts. In other words, these DIY documents do not always guarantee that your wishes will be met. Oftentimes, individuals are not educated about the various state laws and formalities that might impact how their estate planning documents are interpreted. Forbes.com provides a compelling example of this,

“Dennis Riley, a lawyer in Oregon, Ill., recalls a situation several years ago where a father was estranged from one of his children and wanted to disinherit him. Dad bought DIY will software from a big-box store and, following the prompts, listed his assets, but omitted some important ones: small numbers of shares of various phone company stocks that he had bought many years earlier. Those shares, which probably once seemed like tiddlywinks, had burgeoned in value because of mergers and stock splits and were worth more than $1.5 million, comprising most of Dad’s estate, by the time he died.

Unfortunately, the DIY will did not include what’s called a residuary clause–indicating 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. So guess what happened? The stocks passed according to the law of intestacy, and the son, who the father wanted to disinherit, walked away with almost $400,000. To make matters worse, he had a substance abuse problem and blew through the money in less than a year.”

Other problems arise within the wording of the documents and even with the signing and witnessing of the document. Some state laws require that if you witness the signing of the will, you cannot inherit anything from the Will. However, people creating a DIY Will often have no way of knowing this ahead of time and the beneficiaries are left to deal with the consequences later on. Disastrous errors can also be made through simple typing errors. Another example in Forbes.com demonstrates just how big of an impact a seemingly minor error can have.

“Even if your situation seems far less complicated, you can easily screw up filling out the forms. George Fox, a lawyer with Fox+Mattson in Atlanta, recently sent me two of his favorite examples, gleaned from a tax group he frequents. One involved someone who left the form blank where instructions for the DIY will said “[Insert name here]” and wound up leaving $200,000 to “ [Insert name here]” instead of to a loved one. And then there was the poor soul who left “$200.000 to my sister.” The typo, putting a decimal point where there should have been a comma, became a source of contention”

Having your estate planning documents drafted by a qualified professional is money and time well spent. Not only will this ensure that your wishes are being met, but it will also ensure that your loved ones do not have to deal with the potential stress and confusion that are often associated with DIY estate planning documents.

At Tully Law, P.C. we take the time to meet with you, understand your wishes and then draft a Will or Trust specific to your needs, family and assets.  In addition, if there are ever questions, we are only a phone call away – try that with software!