Like most people, you likely understand the importance of having at least a basic estate plan in place. For most people, that means executing a Last Will and Testament, at a bare minimum. For a relatively small estate, a Will is capable of directing the distribution of all estate assets after your death. Thanks to the internet, it is now possible to find all types of “Do-It-Yourself” legal forms, including a DIY Will. The temptation to simply download a fill-in-the-blank Last Will and Testament may be great, particularly when you are short on both time and money. Like others in your situation, you may believe that DIY Wills are better than not having a Will, after all. The problem is that DIY Wills are not always better than not having a Will. In fact, DIY Wills frequently end up costing family members and loved ones a considerable amount of time and money after a Testator’s death.
Last Will and Testament Basics
A Last Will and Testament typically serves as the cornerstone of an estate plan. When you create and execute a Will you are able to do three important things:
- Gift your assets to specific beneficiaries or even to a trust
- Name someone as the Executor of your estate. The Executor is responsible for overseeing the probate of your estate.
- Nominate someone as Guardian for your minor children. Ultimately, a judge must decide who to appoint as Guardian if one is ever needed; however, your choice will almost always be approved absent a compelling reason not to appoint the person you nominated. More importantly, your Will is the only opportunity to you will to tell a judge who you would appoint if you were able to do so.
Estate Planning Can Be Intimidating
overwhelming, particularly if you listen to others discuss the numerous components they may have in their plan and the various estate planning tools and documents they have created as part of their comprehensive plan. Keep in mind, however, that your estate plan may not need to be as extensive at this point in your life. Often, a Last Will and Testament, alone, is sufficient until your estate, and your family, grows.
DIY Wills and Other Legal Documents
While a simple Will may be sufficient to accomplish your estate planning goals at this time in your life, the Will you create needs to be created properly and executed correctly. Operating on the assumption that having “something in place is better than having nothing in place” could be extremely problematic for your loved ones if something were to actually happen to you. The reality is that dying intestate (without a Will) is often preferable to dying with a DIY Will in place that is full or errors, omissions, and mistakes. DIY Wills can be problematic in a number of ways, including:
- Failing to be state specific
- Using outdated language and/or procedural rules
- Failing to ensure that the document is properly executed
- Failing to contemplate the gifting of all estate assets (leaving assets out)
- Failing to consider alternatives and successors (in the event a beneficiary or Executor is unable or unwilling to serve or accept a gift.
When a DIY Will is submitted to the court for probate, there is a good chance it will be contested if it contains errors, omissions, or mistakes. The litigation that follows will cost the estate a good deal of money and will take months (if not years) to conclude. Ultimately, it is your beneficiaries who will suffer because the estate assets you intended to gift to them will be held up in probate until the litigation reaches a resolution. Moreover, every dollar spent by your estate on litigation is one dollar less your loved ones will receive from your estate when everything is said and done.
While the temptation to use DIY Wills is understandable, keep in mind that doing so may create a mess for your loved ones to clean up and may deplete your estate of assets that you intended to leave for those loved ones.
For more information, please join us for one of our upcoming FREE seminars. If you have additional questions about DIY Wills in the State of North Carolina contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Cheryl David by calling 336-547-9999 to schedule an appointment.