In this computer age, when so many tasks are accomplished via the internet -- including banking, shopping, and important business communications -- it may seem logical to turn to the internet when creating a legal document such as a will. Certainly, there are several websites advertising how easy and inexpensive it is to do this. Nonetheless, most of us know that, while the internet can be a wonderful tool, it also contains a tremendous amount of erroneous, misleading, and even dangerous information.
In most cases, as with so many do-it-yourself projects, creating a will most often ends up being a more efficient, less expensive process if you engage the services of a qualified attorney. Just as most of us are not equipped to do our own plumbing repairs or automotive repairs, most of us do not have the background or experience to create our own legal documents, even with the help of written directions.
Situations that Require an Attorney for Will Creation
In certain cases, the need for an estate planning attorney is inarguable. These include situations in which:
Your estate is large enough to make estate planning guidance necessary
You want to disinherit your legal spouse
You have concerns that someone may contest your will
You worry that someone will claim your mind wasn't sound at the signing
Mistakes and Omissions
It has always been possible to write a will all by yourself, even before the advent of the typewriter, let alone the computer. Such a document, however, is unlikely to deal with the complexities of modern life. Many estate planning attorneys have seen, and often been asked to repair, wills that have mistakes or significant omissions. These experts have also become aware of situations in which the survivors of the deceased wind up in court, spending thousands of dollars to contest ambiguously worded or incomplete wills. Without legal guidance from a competent estate planning attorney, creating a "boxtop" will can result in tremendous financial and emotional risk.
Evidence that Online Wills Are Not Foolproof
Evidence that many other complications can arise when an individual creates a will using generalized online directions can be found in the following facts:
Each state has its own rules (e.g. requiring differing numbers of disinterested party signatures)
Even uncontested wills can remain in probate if not executed in an exacting fashion
Estate planning attorneys find legal software programs inadequate
Even legal websites themselves recommend bringing in an attorney in all but the very simplest cases
Some legal websites provide inexpensive monthly legal consultations with attorneys to protect their client and themselves
Areas that Frequently Cause Problems
Self-constructed wills often become problematic when the testator:
Names an executor who has no financial or legal knowledge
Leaves a bequest to a pet (legally, you must leave the bequest to an appointed caretaker)
Puts conditions on payouts to an that are difficult, or impossible, to enforce
Makes unusual end-of-life decisions or puts living will information into the will
Designates guardians for children, but neglects to name successor guardians
Neglects to coordinate beneficiary designations where, for example, the will and insurance policy designations contradict one another
Leaves funeral instructions into the will since the document will most likely not be read until after the funeral has taken place
Leaves inexact or ambiguous instructions dealing with blended families
Neglects to mention small items in the will which, though of small financial value, are meaningful to loved ones and may cause contention
In order to ensure that you leave your assets in the hands of those you wish, and to avoid leaving your loved ones with bitter disputes and expensive probate costs, it is always wise to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney when making a will. In this area, as in so many others, it is best, and safest, to make use of those with expertise in the field.