DIY Estate Planning

Over the past week, I have had the very unfortunate task of telling two different families that the wills left behind by their now deceased loved ones are not valid. When a will is deemed invalid, it is completely disregarded and the deceased person's assets are distributed as though a will never existed. Those wills from two unrelated families had two things in common: (1) they were prepared at the last minute when the loved one was on their death bed and (2) they were both retrieved off the internet. At my estate planning seminars, I am often asked to identify the issues with online wills and, in light of the last week's events, I will share a few of them with you now:

 

  • When helping a family plan for their estate, a good attorney will provide you with the vast array of options you have to distribute your assets and provide care for your children and grandchildren. An online will does not have the ability to discuss those many options with you.
  • Many online wills are "one-size-fits-all" and are not customized to your needs. You are unique and so are your needs. They should be treated as such.
  • Each state's laws are different when it comes to the validity of a will and those laws change all the time. Online wills often fail to account for those differences and, by doing so, result in an invalid will.
  • Getting a will for free (or at minimal cost) is not worth the risk that it may ultimately be found invalid. In one of the family's cases I mentioned above, the father gave a house to his daughter many years before his death, but the house remained in his name. The will the father created on the internet stated that he wanted his daughter to inherit the house. Instead, given that the will is invalid, the house will be split equally between the daughter and her two half-siblings. This may very well result in the house being sold and the daughter receiving 1/3 of the proceeds - instead of a house that is paid for as intended by her father. The online will was not worth it.

 

In planning your estate, please take the time to consult a licensed attorney.