We’ve all seen them at one time or another: those do-it-yourself wills that are available for download on the internet and sold in many stationary stores. They’re all the rage these days, as people look for the easiest way possible to get some sort of estate planning done. For many who choose these tools, it’s simply a matter of convenience. With no need for a visit to an attorney’s office – and no lawyers’ fees to speak of, nothing could be simpler. And, of course, there are all those online marketers spreading the do-it-yourself gospel that would have everyone believe that we can all handle our own legal affairs. But is that true? Can DIY wills really take the place of professional wills crafted by experienced attorneys?
The simple answer is that they can. Many of these simple formulaic documents can be completed in the comfort of your own. They usually only require a few hours’ work, and are simple enough to deal with direct inheritance issues – or so it would seem. The reality is that your heirs will be the ones to find out just how effective your will truly is, but not until after you’re gone. And if it turns out that your DIY will can’t withstand scrutiny, it will be too late to do anything about it.
Why DIY Wills May Not Do the Job
It’s easy to understand why do-it-yourself legal documents have such an alluring appeal. We live in an era in which DIY projects are everywhere. The internet and other forms of mass communication are largely responsible for the trend, but other factors have come into play as well. Troubled economic times have left many families with less disposable income than they used to enjoy. Many have taken to doing things on their own that they never would have tried thirty or forty years ago. Unfortunately, when it comes to legal concerns, the do-it-yourself approach can have disastrous consequences.
Where estate planning is concerned, those consequences could impact the people you love most. Your heirs will be forced to deal with any errors in your will, including the possibility that the entire document could be invalidated by a court – leaving the disposition of your assets subject to state intestacy laws rather than your own express wishes. That can completely disrupt your plans, as certain heirs might receive less than you intended to give while people you never intended to help receive a substantial inheritance windfall.
There are specific reasons why a DIY will might not be viable for your situation:
- The will may be defective. Chances are that you don’t know who created the basic form that you use with your DIY will. You have no way of knowing just how competent the designer really was, or whether the specific terms of the downloaded document are appropriate for your needs. That represents an unacceptable level of uncertainty that you shouldn’t be willing to accept.
- You could fail to complete the will properly. This is fairly common, and even some DIY will makers acknowledge that many of their customers fail to use the documents properly. As you might expect, when you make mistakes in legal documents, you run the risk of having those documents invalidated by courts. Again, this could leave your heirs without any will from you.
- The DIY will is so generic in nature that it’s unlikely to properly serve your unique needs. What are the odds that any downloadable form is going to have all the legal provisions that you need to ensure that your will provides for your loved ones? If you think about it, those odds can’t be very good.
- Many DIY legal documents end up needing professional fixes at some point in time. That usually negates any cost savings that might have been enjoyed by the document’s owner, and can sometimes result in even greater expense since fixing the will can be even more difficult than creating it properly right from the start.
Why Professional Services are Better
Though DIY documents might seem like viable solutions, there are a variety of reasons why experienced attorneys are a better option. The most obvious reason is that an attorney is specifically trained to deal with matters of law. Wills are, for better or worse, a type of legal document. Their creation and enforcement must meet certain legal requirements. Attorneys are familiar with the laws of the state in which they practice, which means that a competent probate and estate planning attorney is going to have specific knowledge that you need to ensure that your will is effective.
At the same time, working with an attorney will also give you access to that lawyer’s body of knowledge and experience. He or she will have insight into sound planning solutions that can help you to accomplish a wide variety of goals. Just as important, that attorney will help you to identify specific areas of concern that your DIY will might not address. If your estate can benefit from certain types of asset protection, trusts, or other planning tools, your lawyer will be able to help you craft an effective strategy that incorporates those options.
In short, a professionally-prepared Last Will and Testament can afford you a level of protection and peace of mind that no do-it-yourself legal document can ever provide. So, while that DIY Last Will and Testament might seem like a perfectly viable alternative to working with an experienced estate planning attorney, that’s just not the case.
If you’ve been considering a do-it-yourself will to meet your estate planning needs, it’s important to know the facts – and the fact is that DIY wills just cannot provide you with the level of certainty that you need for these important matters. At Fouts Law Group, LLC, our experienced team can work with you to ensure that you have the will and other estate planning tools you need to accomplish all your critical legacy goals. To find out more about how you can make the most of your estate planning efforts, contact us online or give us a call at (404) 596-7520.
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