You don’t have a lot of money or assets, so you figure a simple will is all you really need. You’re thinking it’s just as easy (and a lot cheaper) to get a do-it-yourself version online.
Think again. The internet is a great tool, and there are a lot of things you really can handle on your own if you’re brave enough — but estate planning isn’t one of them. The laws in this area are simply too complex to trust to boilerplate forms.
Here’s why the DIY method isn’t good for estate planning
First, a will isn’t a complete estate plan. You need to think about other documents that may need to be in place to meet your end-of-life needs, like powers of attorney and advance medical directives. Until you speak with an attorney, you may not really know what you need — or what options you have.
Even putting all that aside, however, there are other issues with DIY wills. For example:
- They may contain unclear or contradictory language. At best, problems like that will slow up the probate process and cost your estate (and your heirs) money. At worst, your entire will could be unenforceable.
- They may lack the appropriate safeguards. What happens if one of your heirs dies before you? What if an heir dies at the same time, in a common accident? A boilerplate document may not include alternate provisions for the disposition of your assets.
- You don’t get any guidance regarding probate and non-probate assets. Did you know that many of your assets, including your life insurance policies, have designated beneficiaries. That means they aren’t controlled by your will and don’t go through probate. You may need help coordinating non-probate and probate assets so that you get the results you want.
- They may not be valid. If you don’t have the correct format and the right witnesses, your will won’t be recognized as legitimate by the court — and that’s the same as having no will at all.
You may have heard this before, but you really do get what you pay for. The DIY wills that you can find online may be inexpensive (or even free), but they don’t offer you or your heirs the legal protections your estate needs.