Despite the fact that everyone should have a Last Will and Testament, fewer than half of us actually do. Of those, many have wills that they put together on their own – either from scratch or by using various inexpensive toolkits or cheap downloadable forms from the internet. On the surface, it might seem that those wills would be as valid and effective as any other, and eminently more affordable than hiring an attorney to create the document. In reality, however, self-created wills often increase the risk of errors and deficiencies that can create problems for your heirs down the road. If you have a do-it-yourself will, it’s time you considered the possibility that your DIY will might be little more than a recipe for disaster.
Wills are Legal Instruments
The very idea of the Last Will and Testament has become so rooted in our cultural DNA that many people simply take the documents for granted. That has led to some curious beliefs that can cause people to make poor decisions when it comes to their own estate planning efforts. For example, many simply assume that even a handwritten note listing beneficiaries and inheritance items can serve as a valid will. Others believe that wills are so simple that there is no need for an attorney. There are even those who incorrectly assume that mistakes will simply be sorted out by a judge after they die.
The Last Will and Testament is not just an informal declaration, however. It is a legal document that can be enforced to the letter once it is validated by a probate judge. That means that sloppy provisions, incomprehensible directions, and improper creation choices can lead to unforeseen results or even outright invalidation of the document. If your will contains any of the following mistakes or inappropriate provisions, you could be setting your heirs up for some very unpredictable probate results:
- Is your named executor competent enough to handle the duties required to efficiently close the estate? One of the most common DIY will errors involves the naming of executors who have no legal or financial experience. That not only places an unnecessary burden on that designee, but could make resolution of the estate even more complex and confusing than it needs to be.
- Improper coordination of beneficiary designations can be a serious problem as well. If your will leaves certain accounts or policy benefits to designated heirs, those provisions will be thrown out if the actual accounts list someone else as your beneficiary. Remember, the beneficiary designations on an insurance policy or retirement account take precedence over anything you might write into your will. So, if you’re trying to create a certain level of equitable distribution in your will, you need to keep these designations in mind.
- Did you leave property to your pets to ensure that they’ll be taken care of when you’re gone? That’s a huge mistake that could create confusion during the estate settlement process. Remember, the law considered pets as property, and you cannot leave assets to property. To resolve that issue, you need to appoint a caretaker for your pet, and leave the money for the animal in that human’s care. Often times, this is better resolved through the use of a pet trust.
- Does your will contain important details about the type of treatment you want to receive for end-of-life health care decisions? That’s a mistake. Worse, it’s a waste of time and will prevent your wishes from being known until it is already too late. Remember, your will is not going to be opened and read until after you have died. At that point, it will be too late for those end-of-life care instructions to be enforced. That type of information should be placed in a living will rather than in your Last Will and Testament.
- Speaking of dying, are your funeral arrangement instructions in your will? That too can be a mistake, since wills are often left unread until after you have been buried or cremated. If you have specific service instructions and feel the need to include them in your will, you should make sure that your executor has been made aware of them. That will help to prevent them from being ignored until it’s too late.
- Is your will properly signed and witnessed? Every jurisdiction has specific legal requirements regarding the proper creation of these legal documents. If your will has not been signed in accordance with the law, and properly witnessed, then it may be successfully challenged in court. Alternatively, the judge could just refuse to validate it altogether, on the grounds that it does not meet the legal requirements for such documents.
- Did you use an online form? If so, are you sure that you filled everything out correctly? Did you find areas where the form document seemed insufficient for your needs? Unfortunately, many people encounter serious problems when they rely upon one-size-fits-all DIY documents of this nature. You can end up with glaring errors that could place the validity of the will in jeopardy, or ill-composed legal provisions that produce inheritance results that are far from what you intended. If you have a will created using one of these online forms, have it reviewed by an expert attorney to ensure that it accomplishes your goals.
Many of the people who rely on DIY wills do so because they want to avoid the cost of retaining an attorney. That’s understandable, especially when you consider that most people expect lawyers’ fees for these types of services to be far greater than they usually turn out to be. Unfortunately, far too many people end up paying more in the long-run when they have to hire attorneys to correct their do-it-yourself attempt at will creation. You can spare yourself that extra cost and ensure that your will is created properly the first time, but relying on the experts at the Augulis Law Firm. To find out more, contact us at our website or give us a call at (908) 222-8803.