Like most people, you probably understand how important it is to have a comprehensive estate plan in place; however, you may not have gotten around to creating one despite knowing how important it is to have one. Is so, you are hardly alone. Surveys show that over half of all Americans have yet to create an estate plan even though most of them also admit to understanding the importance of having one in place. There are several common reasons people give for why they have yet to create an estate plan, including the belief that they don’t have enough assets to warrant a plan and that working with an estate planning attorney to create a plan is cost prohibitive. If you are concerned about the cost, you are likely wondering “Can’t I just save money by using a DIY Will?” Although it may seem to save you money in the short run, using a DIY Will instead of working with an experienced attorney will typically cost your loved ones considerably more, both in terms of time and money, in the long run.
The Role of a Last Will and Testament in an Estate Plan
A Last Will and Testament is typically the foundation upon which a comprehensive estate plan is built; however, it can be the only estate planning document. Your Will allows you to do several very important things, including:
- Make gifts – you can make specific and general bequests in your Will. A specific bequest might include leaving your baseball card collection to your nephew whereas a general bequest would be if you left your nephew half of your estate assets.
- Appoint Executor – after your death your estate will likely need to go through the legal process known as probate. In your Will you appoint someone as the Executor of your estate. Your Executor will oversee the probate process from start to finish.
- Nominate Guardian – if you have minor children, your only opportunity to tell a court who you would want to have legal guardianship over those children in the event one is needed is in your Will.
The Problem with DIY Wills
In today’s electronic age it is possible to find just about anything on the internet, including legal forms. Neighborhood stationary and office supply stores also commonly stick “fill-in-the-blank” legal forms. It is understandably tempting to purchase or download one of these DIY Wills in the hope that you can save yourself a considerable amount of time and money – after all, working with an experienced North Carolina estate planning attorney will likely take more time and cost more money. Your estate plan, however, is not where you want to decide to be frugal. I=On the contrary, your estate plan is something you should invest in if necessary to ensure that the plan actually works as intended down the road. There are several important reasons why using a DIY Will is not in your best interests, including, but not limited to:
- Outdated information – laws governing wills, trusts, and estates are subject to change – and do change – with some frequencies. Boilerplate forms you find online or in a store may not be current enough to reflect recent changes in the law.
- Not state specific – wills, trusts, and estate matters are governed primarily by state laws. Often, DIY legal forms, including Wills, are not state specific, meaning the Will you execute might not even be valid in the state where you die.
- Cannot offer advice – only a licensed attorney can give you advice. Therefore, if you are using a DIY legal form and you have questions, there is no one to answer them.
- May lack formalities –
- Conflict with other components – an estate plan often includes a variety of components, such as retirement planning, incapacity planning, and tax and probate avoidance. Using a DIY form within any of these components can create a huge problem because you have no idea how it will interact with the other components – and you have no one to ask.
- No way to fix errors – mush as you may not want to think about it, the bottom line is that an error in your DIY Will won’t become an issue until your death, meaning you cannot fix it. Instead, you will leave your loved ones –the very ones you wanted to provide for and protect — stuck with the aftermath of your mistake.