Go online, and you’ll find tons of websites offering do-it-yourself estate planning documents. Such forms are typically quite inexpensive. Simple wills, for example, are often priced under $50, and you can complete and print them out in a matter of minutes.
In our uber-busy lives and DIY culture, it’s no surprise that this kind of thing might seem like a good – if not great – deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, such documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your life’s lengthy to-do list.
But this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing, and here’s why:
A false sense of security
Creating a DIY will online can lead you to believe that you no longer must worry about estate planning. You got it done, right?
Except that you didn’t. In fact, you thought you “got it done” because you went online, printed a form, and had it notarized, but you didn’t bother to investigate what would happen with that document in the event of your incapacity or death.
In the end, what seemed like a bargain could end up costing your family more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.
Not just about filling out forms
Unfortunately, because many people don’t understand that estate planning entails much more than just filling out legal documents, they end up making serious mistakes with DIY plans. Worst of all, these mistakes are only discovered when you become incapacitated or die, and it’s too late. The people left to deal with your mistakes are often the very ones you were trying to do right by.
The primary purpose of wills and other estate planning tools is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. With the growing popularity of DIY wills, tens of thousands of families (and millions more to come) have learned the hard way that trying to handle estate planning alone can not only fail to fulfill this purpose, it can make the court cases and conflicts far worse and more expensive.
The hidden dangers of DIY wills
From the specific state you live in and the wording of the document to the required formalities for how it must be signed and witnessed, there are numerous potential dangers involved with DIY wills and other estate planning documents. Estate planning is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even if you think you have a simple situation, that’s almost never the case.
The following scenarios are just a few of the most common complications that can result from attempting to go it alone with a DIY will:
- Improper execution: For a will to be valid, it must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. If your DIY will doesn’t specific guidance or you fail to follow this procedure precisely, your will can be worthless.
- Court challenges: Creditors, heirs, and other interested parties will have the opportunity to contest your will or make claims against your estate. Though wills created with an attorney’s guidance can also be contested, DIY wills are not only far more likely to be challenged, but the chances of those challenges being successful are much greater than if you have an attorney-drafted will.
- Thinking a will is enough: A will alone is almost never sufficient to handle all of your legal affairs. In the event of your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive, and/or a living will plus a durable financial power of attorney. In the event of your death, a will does nothing to keep your loved one’s out of court. And if you have minor children, having a will alone could leave your kids’ at risk of being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers, at least temporarily.
In many ways, DIY estate planning is the worst choice you can make for the people you love because you think you’ve got it covered, when you most certainly do not.
Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,