When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing – Part 1

Online you’ll find tons of websites offering cheap wills. Simple wills, for example, often cost less than $50. And you can complete and sign the forms pretty quickly.

In our super-busy lives and DIY culture, this might seem like a good deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, those documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your 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 don’t have to worry about estate planning anymore. You got it done, right?

Except that you didn’t. 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 actually happen with that document in place in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

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.

Creating a DIY will can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. In the back of your mind, you might even promise that one day you’ll revisit and update your plan with something better. But chances are, having done “something” will lead you to put this off until it’s too late.

At least if you do nothing,  estate planning will still be on your to-do list. (But then you’re at the mercy of the state’s “default settings,” which might really go against your wishes for yourself and your family.)

It’s More Than Just a Document. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that estate planning involves much more than just filling out legal documents. So 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 main 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, thousands of families 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.

Watch Out For Hidden Dangers!

There are many 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.

These are some of the most common complications resulting from DIY wills:

#1 Improper execution:

For a will to be valid, it must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. Such procedural requirements are designed to prevent foul play and vary by state. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY will doesn’t mention that or you don’t read the fine print and fail to follow this procedure, it can be worthless.

#2 Court challenges:

Before the assets covered in a will can be transferred to your heirs, the will must go through the court process called probate. During probate, creditors, heirs, and other interested parties have the chance 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 far more likely to be challenged.

#3 Thinking a will is enough:

Very rarely is a will enough to handle all of your legal affairs. At your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive and/or a living will plus a durable financial power of attorney. At 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 will 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.

If you’ve yet to do any estate planning at all, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or  created a plan with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been updated or reviewed in the past 2 years, call us. We can help keep your family out of court and of conflict when something happens to you.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session,  during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

In part two of this series, we cover one of the biggest dangers with DIY wills.