Much has been written and said about America’s estate planning crisis. With fewer than half of all American adults having taken the time to create even a simple will or living trust, that leaves most of us without any end-of-life planning to ensure that our affairs are properly settled when we die. Unfortunately, even many of those who do create a will or living trust try to do so in the least expensive way possible – which means that they use some type of do-it-yourself estate planning template tool to avoid the expense of an attorney.
When it comes to the do-it-yourself template or sample will form, however, there are many reasons why using one could be a serious mistake. Here are seven of the most important reasons why you should avoid these do-it-yourself template or sample documents.
Wills, and Living Trusts, Are Based on State Law
Perhaps the most important reason to avoid do-it-yourself estate planning of any kind is the fact that these may not be legally-enforceable documents. An estate plan’s provisions is supposed to be based on state law, and even minor defects can have major consequences.
Unless you have legal expertise, chances are that you’ll be dealing with unfamiliar terms and concepts during the will or living trust creation process. To ensure that the will conforms to state requirements, you should rely upon the advice of a competent legal professional.
Mistakes Can Render Your Will, or Living Trust, Invalid
There are many mistakes that could invalidate parts of your will or living trust, or even the entire document. For example, if you fail to execute it properly by signing it and following the requirements for witnesses, the entire document could be declared invalid.
Other mistakes can be just as damaging to the will’s validity. To make matters worse, there’s a good chance that any errors in the will or living trust won’t be discovered until after you’re deceased — long after you could have easily corrected any problems.
You Have Unique Needs
It’s also important to remember that do-it-yourself templates, sample documents and forms used for wills and living trusts tend to be a one-size-fits-all proposition. That’s the problem with form documents: they tend to lack the flexibility that you need to properly customize your estate plan to accommodate your unique life circumstances.
While a lot of folks think their estate planning needs are simple and basic, the truth is that sample or formula wills can fail to handle your simple estate planning needs. Even basic life concerns get neglected in many instances.
If you rely on one of these form products to create your will or living trust, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to handle those individualized issues.
Your Will, or Living Trust, Terms Could be Unenforceable
Often, do-it-yourself wills and living trusts end up littered with terms that are difficult or impossible to enforce. In some instances, testators try to incorrectly place conditions on the inheritances that they leave to heirs — like graduating from college, getting married, or losing weight.
Other times, the testator might try to leave money directly to an animal companion. That’s a major mistake, since animals are viewed as property, and you cannot leave property to other property.
These are the simple mistakes that could make an otherwise reasonable estate planning document a real nightmare for your heirs.
Including Provisions that Don’t Belong in a Will or Living Trust
Some people also try to put too many things into their will or living trust — including important end-of-life or death-planning concerns that have no business being in this document. One example is the living will (not to be confused with a Living Trust). Testators sometimes place their living will instructions inside their wills, because they just naturally assume that the two things belong together. Obviously, that can prove problematic, especially when you consider that the will won’t be opened until after the testator is dead — and well after those living will instructions might have come in handy.
Burial instructions can pose a similar problem. If you’re thinking about including information about the type of service you’d like at your funeral, information about your burial plot, or other information of that nature, think twice.
If the will, or living trust, isn’t opened until after you’ve been buried, those details may end up going to waste. These and similar problems can be easily avoided when you rely on a professionally-created will or living trust from a competent probate attorney.
Confusing Beneficiary Designations
Beneficiary designations can also pose a problem in several different ways. One problem can come when you fail to properly name the beneficiaries, making it difficult for your estate’s executor to identify who gets what.
Another problem can occur when you fail to properly coordinate your living trust or will’s beneficiary designations and end up including bequests that leave retirement accounts or insurance policies to certain heirs. That can be a problem, since the appropriate way to designate a beneficiary for those assets is to list that person on the actual account or policy. Remember, the name listed as a beneficiary on the actual asset document is the name that will be given priority when heirs are determined.
Your DIY Will Could Cost You More in the Long Run
One of the most enticing reasons to avoid the do-it-yourself will or living trust, however, is the one that leads most people to use these form documents in the first place: cost. When you consider that your do-it-yourself document could be littered with errors that make it all but worthless for your estate planning needs, you should wonder why you’ve spent any money it on all.
And when you further consider that the only way you’d ever know that it is invalid is if you took it to a lawyer, you might start to have serious second thoughts about the whole process. The reality is that dealing with an attorney is the only way you can ever really be sure that your last will is properly crafted, so doesn’t it make more sense to have it done by an attorney right from the start?
The bottom line is simple: There’s really only one good reason to consider a do-it-yourself will or living trust, and that’s cost savings. There are a host of reasons to avoid the DIY will and rely on a professional probate attorney instead.
At Fouts Law Group, LLC, our Atlanta estate planning experts can ensure that you have the Last Will and Testament that you need to properly secure your end-of-life and legacy plan. To learn how we can help you with professional planning that avoids the drawbacks of a DIY document, contact us online or give us a call at (404) 596-7520.
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