You’ve undoubtedly heard that it’s important for all adults to have a will or other legal plan for passing assets and getting debts settled when they pass away. You may also have heard that, despite that importance, most Americans don’t have wills. Filling out forms online, using a non-attorney document completion service, or using someone else’s will as a template to complete your own may seem like an efficient and cost-effective way to address the issue.
Unfortunately, a poorly constructed will may be worse than no will at all. And, it’s easy to go wrong when you try to create a will without sufficient knowledge of estate planning.
Opportunities for Error in Creating a DIY Will
There are many pitfalls associated with taking estate planning into your own hands, particularly in writing your own will. Here are some of the most common and significant concerns:
- Not knowing what you don’t know. One of the most significant problems facing people who set out to create a will using a form is that they often overlook important issues because those issues aren’t addressed or aren’t clearly spelled out in the form or instructions. An experienced estate planning attorney will have a checklist of issues to address, and will know what follow-up questions to ask to ensure that you’ve covered all the bases.
- Not understanding the role of an executor. Most people’s first instinct is to appoint the person closest to them as administrator of the estate, whether that is a spouse, adult child, or close friend. But, making the right choice requires a thorough understanding of what will be expected of your administrator. An estate lawyer will discuss qualifications with you and help you to make the right choice, but those writing their own wills often don’t have sufficient information to make a good decision.
- Overlooking or misinterpreting strategic issues. Creating a will that truly serves your purposes and protects your loved ones requires more than filling in blanks. Incorporating good legal and financial strategies requires an in-depth understanding of estate law in your state, taxation, and other issues. Some examples include knowing whether a surviving spouse as a right to elect against the will in your state, knowing how to effectively disinherit a close relative, and knowing how to structure bequests for the benefit of minor children.
- Believing a will is sufficient. While creating a will is a step in the right direction, not every important issue is addressed in your will. One example is healthcare directives, which are essential for ensuring that your wishes are carried out in the event of a significant health crisis, and that someone you trust has the authority to make decisions if you are unable to do so. Those issues aren’t addressed in a will, and you likely won’t be prompted to consider those issues or offered solutions when using a DIY will solution.
- Assuming a will is the best approach for you. While wills remain the most common estate planning solution, they aren’t the best solution for everyone. An experienced estate lawyer will assess your holdings and your goals and discuss the best way to transfer assets after your passing. That may be a will, but for many people there are significant advantages in employing tools like rights of survivorship and living trusts.
Creating a Comprehensive, Effective Estate Plan
When you’re ready to protect yourself and your family through estate planning, you can’t afford to cut corners. One of the leading providers of DIY will options has publicly stated that 80% of lay people make errors in completing legal forms—and that doesn’t even include issues wholly overlooked because they didn’t appear on the form. When you make a mistake or leave out something important in the creation of a will, that error may not become apparent until after you’re gone. That may mean expensive legal complications for your family, or even that the will is invalid.
Working with an experienced estate lawyer helps ensure that you have considered all important issues, that you understand your options for structuring your estate plan, and that you have the opportunity to make educated decisions about the best approach for you and your beneficiaries.