The Shortcomings of Do-It-Yourself Wills
Kits and Online Products May Cost You More in the Long Run
If you’ve worked with an attorney to put an estate plan in place to ensure the orderly distribution of your estate, you are in the distinct minority. One study found that only about one in every three Americans has a will or trust. You may think you don’t have the time to work through the process with an attorney, or you may worry about the potential costs. Those factors may lead you to believe that a do-it-yourself kit, a software program or an online will meet your needs. That would be a mistake.
What Can Go Wrong with a Do-It-Yourself or Online Will?
There are many ways that preparing and executing a do-it-yourself or online will may not accomplish your objectives:
- It may not have legal effect – The legal requirements to make a will binding vary from state to state. While some requirements are pretty uniform—age requirements and absence of duress or undue influence—states may have different requirements regarding the number of witnesses, or the need for notarization. If you use a generic kit that doesn’t consider your state’s specific requirements, your will could be invalid.
- You may include provisions that are legally unenforceable – Can you set certain conditions on the distribution of your property? Maybe and maybe not. You cannot make the receipt of an inheritance contingent upon the commission of an illegal act. Furthermore, a court may find the conditions you’ve set to be unrealistic or impractical and through them out. Want to ensure that Fido has the financial resources to live the good dog’s life after you die? You’ll run into legal problems if you try to leave money directly to your dog.
- Your wishes may not be easily determined – One of the key advantages of using an attorney is that you can be sure that the final document will be crystal clear about where your property goes. When you draft it yourself, there can be a tendency to be less specific that you should be. If the court cannot clearly determine who is to receive certain property, or cannot tell what property is to be conveyed, the court will likely reject the instructions and try to distribute the property as fairly as possible.
- You may inadvertently fail to include property – It happens for a variety of reasons, but the consequences can be significant. If the form you use doesn’t include a provision for your “residuary estate,” any property not specifically referenced in your will may end up passing under the laws of intestacy (the laws that govern distribution if you didn’t have a will at all).
- You may attempt to pass property that is not controlled by a will – There are other ways to pass property at your death. With bank accounts and investment portfolios, you can designate a beneficiary, so that the account automatically goes to that person. You can also put property into joint ownership, so that it automatically passes to all other joint owners at your death. In both of those situations, you cannot use a will to pass or distribute the property.
- A “do-it-yourself” will may not be sophisticated enough to adequately deal with your situation – You may have some complex tax issues that need to be addressed in your estate planning. You may need to make special provisions for the guardianship and care of minor children or others with special needs. An online will, or will kit won’t take those factors into consideration.
Contact the Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys at Bailey & Galyen
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment with a proven Texas wills and trusts lawyer, contact us by e-mail or call our offices at 844-402-2992. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.