Be advised, this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Always seek the advice of legal counsel prior to making estate planning decisions.
The temptation is clear. Save money by doing your own Will. If a person can just go to legalspeed.com or a similar legal document generator site, why waste the money on an attorney?
If you follow the directions on most of these legal sites and software programs you will find a strong disclaimer that states that the legal site or software is not a replacement for legal advice and strongly advises that you consult an attorney for help in understanding how the law may apply to your particular situation. Therein lies the problem with DIY Wills. Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all process. If it were, these sites and programs would have no need to refer you back to an attorney for help and advice.
The problems with a DIY Will boil down to the following: (1) form; (2) substance; (3) execution; and (4) knowledge. I want to focus on the knowledge component.
Knowledge is incredibly important to the drafting of a Will and one of the reasons a person seeks the assistance of an attorney when doing estate planning. An attorney will have knowledge of the laws that will affect your Will. For instance, an attorney will know the difference between probate and non-probate assets. This distinction is important as non-probate assets do not usually pass through a Will. Therefore, the inclusion of a non-probate asset in a Will will generally have no effect. Without this knowledge, a person may unintentionally disinherit a loved one.
For example, the most commonly seen non-probate asset is life insurance. A person might leave one child with the house and the other child with the life insurance in his or her will. But the life insurance will have its own beneficiary so the second child may effectively be disinherited. This can lead to bitterness and possible legal action over your estate.
Proponents of the DIY Wills will say that having a Will is better than not having a Will. However, this is only half correct. If the Will does more harm than good, I would disagree that the DIY Will is better than nothing. A bad will can set your family up for legal battles that divide the family and cost your estate money. The whole point of a Will is to avoid just that.
Jeffrey R. Caffee