Do-It-Yourself Wills Leave Families Unprotected

As the economy crawls sluggishly toward recovery, individuals and families continue to make difficult financial choices. In an effort to save money, people are increasingly attempting to personally handle tasks that were once reserved for professionals.

For some, this includes crafting DIY-wills, relying upon generic documents acquired from the Internet or purchasing books with forms. Unfortunately, this approach can have serious negative repercussions.

The biggest problem with a self-created will is that the creator will not understand any potential problems until it is too late to make any changes and remedy these issues. The plans for asset distribution outlined in a will only take effect upon the death of the person creating the will, at which point that person is clearly unable to clarify any ambiguities or uncertainties.

What might go wrong? DIY drafters face a host of potential problems.

  • To avoid future estate litigation or a will contest, a will must be completely unambiguous. For someone who is not trained as an estate planning lawyer, it is easy to overlook sources of potential ambiguity when distributing property.
  • A well-drafted will must account for changing circumstances. In the past year, estate taxes have changed dramatically and they are slated to change again at the end of this year if Congress does not act. To be effective and achieve the intended property distribution, a will must account for any changes that might arise. Furthermore, a will must account for changing relationships. Life changes such as marriage and divorce generally alter a person's plans for asset distribution - a will must account for this.
  • An effective estate plan must account for the shifting values of assets and the tax consequences of any particular asset. As the value of an asset increases or decreases, one might inadvertently will a particular person significantly more or less than intended. Transferring an asset without full consideration of the tax implications might ultimately create a burden for the person receiving the asset.
  • To be valid and enforceable, a will must comply with the formalities demanded by the laws of the state. Many of the DIY form books or Internet sources are not tailored to particular states. If the will is not properly executed, this may create an opportunity for someone to challenge the will.
  • A Will may be declared invalid if the witnesses cannot be found, are unwilling to testify in Court, or are not clear in their testimony about the facts surrounding the execution.
  • In New York, a Will execution supervised by an attorney is presumed to be done according to the formalities of the law.

Unfortunately, these are just a few of the problems that may arise and these problems can quickly turn into bitter courtroom battles, pitting family members and close friends against one another.

Estate planning is a complex area of the law and the creation of wills is best left to professionals. Estate planning attorneys have the training and experience necessary to effectively address these concerns and avoid these problems; speak with an attorney today to discuss your estate planning needs.