Given that fewer than half of us actually have a Last Will and Testament, one would think that every created will would be a reason for celebration. On a certain level, it is. After all, the creation of a will is a sure sign that the testator has taken his responsibilities in that area at least somewhat seriously. On the other hand, the simple act of creating a will does not necessarily mean that your estate planning duties have actually been met. For a variety of reasons, that will you created may not survive the test of time. It may even be fundamentally flawed from the start – especially if you created it on your own without the benefit of expert advice. So, what can you do when a will goes awry? The answer is simple: get help from an experienced Atlanta probate attorney.
Do-it-yourself wills are a common source of errors. It’s a safe bet that every estate planning attorney in the country with more than a few months’ experience has had to correct at least one of these DIY documents. Many of the downloadable forms you can find on the internet are wholly incapable of providing the type of customized approach that you need to create your own Last Will and Testament. Moreover, many people who use these forms simply fill them out wrong anyway. All of these defects can render the document ineffective, or outright invalid.
We all know that wills eventually need to be updated. The reality is that a failure to regularly update your will can eventually leave it in a state where it doesn’t even accomplish your goals. The problem is, however, that there is a right way and a wrong way to accomplish these changes. The right way to amend your will is to use a codicil – which is essentially an addendum that you utilize to make changes, add provisions, delete certain elements of the document, or revoke it altogether.
Unfortunately, most estate planning attorneys have at one time or another seen how people can do these updates the wrong way. Far too many people try to amend their wills on their own – scribbling annotations in the margins of the document, crossing out names, drawing lines to connect beneficiaries to property, and so on. That can actually lead to the entire will being declared invalid by a probate court.
Reasons for Contesting the Will
Forget for a moment the messiness of handwritten notes in the margins, or the lack of clarity that many DIY wills seem to demonstrate. If those things result in a will being declared invalid, that decision will have had less to do with a lack of legibility and clarity than with the overall picture that such wills present to the probate court that eventually sees the document.
- A confusing or poorly-drafted will can be seen as a sign of incompetence – which can be grounds for someone to contest the will’s validity.
- Notes written in the margins can create confusion about what the testator intended. That too can give the court reason to wonder about his or her soundness of mind.
- Multiple handwritten changes to named beneficiaries or inheritances can also be evidence of possible undue influence.
Some things, like a failure to sign the will, cannot be ignored by the court. But there are times when the court can give a more liberal interpretation to the document so that small errors are not allowed to invalidate the entire will. However, that permissiveness carries with it the possibility that your clear intent may be misinterpreted by a poorly-drafted will.
An Attorney Can Help
A competent probate attorney can help you to avoid these complications, but corrections need to be done before you pass away. Consider the following facts when you’re trying to decide whether you need a probate attorney’s help with your Last Will and Testament:
- Did you create your will on your own? If so, then you need to have an attorney review it to ensure that the form or outline you used provided the guidance you needed to accomplish your goals.
- Has any serious amount of time passed since your will was created? Even if you had an attorney draft the original document, odds are that it is no longer as applicable to your circumstances as it might once have been. Regular reviews and updates of your will should be scheduled to ensure that it still reflects your wishes and needs.
- Have there been major changes in your life? If you’ve received a windfall of money or property, had beneficiaries die, or had new heirs born, then you need to meet with your attorney to change the will to reflect your current circumstances.
- Do you just want to start over? For a variety of reasons, people sometimes just want to revoke their existing wills and start from scratch. In many instances, they’ve decided that they need additional tools like trusts to more effectively accomplish their goals. If so, don’t just draw a big scribbly line through the will and expect that to accomplish your objective. Visit your probate attorney and let him help you get on the right path to sound estate planning.
Get the Right Probate Attorney for Your Needs
The fact is that there is no substitute for an experienced probate attorney when you want your Last Will and Testament to properly reflect your wishes. If your will is suffering from possible defects that might render it ineffective or void, know that you’re not alone. Many people experience similar problems with their own wills at some point in their lives. The good news is that Fouts Law Group, LLC can provide you with the Atlanta probate attorney services you need to ensure that your will can stand the test of time. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you address both minor and major problems with your Last Will and Testament, then contact us online today or give us a call at (678) 242-8344
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