Pitfalls of a DIY Will

woman staring at computer screen in frustration - DIY Will concept

There are many forms and do-it-yourself (DIY) websites for a will, but making a will is not as simple as filling in the blanks on a form. The DIY approach to estate planning seems easy and less expensive than hiring an experienced estate planning attorney to draft a will and other documents that are typically recommended to be part of an estate plan. However, using a DIY will can end up costing you and your loved ones in the long run.

Is a DIY Will Legal?

Although using a DIY will is legal, there can be significant risks for Michigan residents. Michigan, as well as all other states, have specific legal requirements for estate planning documents that must be followed. For example, if a will is not signed and witnessed properly it may be challenged as being invalid for a number of reasons. Moreover, the contents of the DIY will may not accomplish your intentions and address your specific circumstances.

Pitfalls of a DIY Will

Most traps and pitfalls for a DIY will relate to the content and substance of the will. Preprinted forms, including from an online provider, tend to be simplistic. As a result, the form may have unintended consequences. For example, the form might not specify how you want your assets distributed to a child and whether the child’s share should go to your grandchild or to the spouse of your child if he or she predeceases you. In addition, if one of your children or grandchildren is a minor or is not very good with managing money, the form may not include provisions to protect that child. Moreover, complex issues involving blended families, particular distributions of assets and business ownership are not addressed

There may also be issues with making changes to a DIY will after it is signed. Crossing text out or adding new provisions may cause confusion and conflict with family members or cause the will to be challenged as invalid.

Another important note is that assets like life insurance, retirement accounts and annuities are not normally subject to the terms of a will so it is important to understand how the distribution of those assets are controlled under a beneficiary designation that is separate from a will.

Other Important Estate Planning Documents

Although a will is an important element in estate planning, there are other documents that should be considered as part of your estate planning. For example, a Revocable Living Trust offers greater control over how a person’s assets are managed and distributed both during their lifetime and after death. A trust takes effect as soon as the trust document is signed and it is intended to have an impact while you’re still living as well as after death. Provisions in a Living Trust typically address not only how you want your assets distributed upon your death, but also how you want your assets to be used for your care if you become incapacitated and lack the sufficient mental capacity to take care of yourself and manage your day-to-day affairs.

Another advantage of the Revocable Living Trust is that as the Trustee of the Trust, you maintain total control over the trust assets during your lifetime with the ability to transfer assets in and out of the Trust. You are also able to amend or even revoke the Trust during your lifetime. However, after your death the Trust and your instructions for distribution of the Trust assets becomes irrevocable.

Other important documents that are typically included with a will or a trust as part of an estate plan include a patient advocate designation in which you appointment someone to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated, a durable power of attorney for financial matters to authorize someone to pay your bills and otherwise manage your finances if you become incapacitated and nomination of a guardian and conservator for your children in the event that you pass away or become incapacitated before they reach adulthood.

While forms are available for these other estate planning documents, using the fill-in-the-blanks approach have many of the same pitfalls as a do-it-yourself will. Most importantly, you may not even be aware of the various issues you need to address in your estate plan and all the options available for accomplishing your estate planning goals.

Schedule a Free Consultation and Talk to an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you assess your family situation, explain your options for passing assets along in the manner most beneficial to your loved ones and advise you about the additional provisions that may be required for your estate planning documents. Give yourself and your family the benefit of a knowledgeable guide in the estate planning process.

Ager Law Office helps individuals and families with all aspects of estate planning. From our Ann Arbor office, we serve clients throughout Washtenaw County.

For additional information on our reasonable flat fees for Wills, Trusts and other Estate Planning services, or about updating your existing estate planning documents, contact our experienced estate planning attorney, Bill Ager, for a free consultation.

Categories: Estate Planning