This is an article from Amen, Gantner & Capriano (www.yourestatematters.com/) in St. Louis, Missouri, that we thought others may find helpful.
In the age of the internet, it seems as though you can find just about anything with a few clicks of a mouse. Even “Do-It-Yourself” legal forms can be located easily on the internet. It may be very tempting to use these DIY forms to finally get started on that estate plan that you have been putting off. After all, using a few DIY forms will save you both time and money, right? Wrong! Using forms you found on the internet, such as DIY Wills and Trusts, may save you time and money now; however, your loved ones will pay the price down the road.
Your Estate Plan
If you are contemplating using a DIY Will or Trust form, it is hopefully because you understand the importance of having at least a basic estate plan in place. Without at least a basic Will in place, your state will most likely decide what happens to your estate assets when your die. You may think you don’t have a large enough estate to worry much about what happens to it; however, if you really think about it that is likely not the case. Although your estate may not have a high monetary value, your possessions may have sentimental or familial value to you. Family heirlooms or items that represent a special time in your life likely have value to you. You may even have promised some of these items to a friend or favored family member. Without an estate plan, however, you have no control over what happens to these items.
The Price of DIY Wills and Trusts
It is tempting to simply download a Last Will and Testament or Trust form, fill in the blanks and call it a day. It seems as though you are saving a significant amount of time and money by taking this route. In truth, you may be saving time and money; however, there may be a heavy price to pay down the road. If you created a Testamentary Trust or a Last Will and Testament, the document won’t be tested until you are gone. At that point, you are no longer around to fix any problems that may arise – and there is a very good chance there will be problems, such as:
- Failure to distribute the entire estate – one of the most common problems that arise when DIY estate planning forms are used is failure to distribute the entire estate. One of the primary reasons for executing a Will is to avoid the state’s intestate succession laws. If any assets are left out of your will, an intestate estate proceeding will have to be initiated.
- Stale language or law – many of these DIY forms have been floating around the internet for years. Applicable laws may have changed in the interim, making some of the language in the form (or the entire form) stale from a legal standpoint.
- Not state specific – many of the laws that govern Wills and estates are state laws. For this reason, a will or trust agreement must be state specific to ensure it will be valid. Many DIY forms, however, are generic and do not include state specific considerations.
- Failed interaction between documents – using one DIY legal form is dangerous enough. Trying to use both a Will and a Trust that interact with each other is much more likely to result in failure because you need experienced legal advice to accomplish this.
- Improper execution – for a Will or Trust Agreement to be valid, it must be executed using the proper procedures.
What Happens After You Are Gone?
Most problems with DIY Wills and Trusts do not surface until after the death of the Testator or Settlor. This tends to compound the problems because there is no way to clear up vague language, fix an error or explain an omission. This often leads to litigation during the probate of an estate. If your estate ends up in litigation during the probate process it will result in diminishing the value of your estate, meaning your loved ones will receive less than you intended. It will also hold up the transfer of assets to your intended beneficiaries. Ultimately, your loved ones may pay a hefty price for your use of a DIY Will and/or Trust.
The easy way to avoid the dangers inherent in using DIY Wills and Trusts is to retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your Last Will and Testament and/or Trust Agreement.