As the name suggests, a do-it-yourself will, or DIY will, is when you write and complete your own last will and testament. This is typically accomplished using an online estate-planning site or DIY software program that provides the necessary forms for users to then fill out on their own.
While this is a widely available option and one that’s better than going with no will at all, it’s important to recognize the limitations of a DIY will. What you’re losing with a DIY will is expertise. You may be saving some time and money going the DIY route but you also wont know for certain if you’re leaving out important aspects or implementing an inferior estate plan strategy.
Also, it’s worthwhile to remember that when you make mistakes involving your will, typically it’s your family and beneficiaries that ends up with the trouble of sorting it out. And it doesn’t take someone contesting the will for issues to result. Remember that courts must uphold the law, so any improperly executed steps or provisions could result in an extended and expensive probate.
Another issue that you’ll run into with DIY software programs and services is that right when you introduce some complexity to the process, i.e. planning that goes beyond simply leaving all assets to a spouse or relative, even the DIY service will suggest bringing in a lawyer to assist. These services may tout having attorneys on their staff but note that this is not the same as receiving personally tailored advice. As soon as you require this, your costs will increase.
Here, we’ll cover the common problems that DIY wills present users, the pros and cons of this approach, as well as other factors that you’ll want to consider in your estate planning process.
Common DIY Will Problems
The main concern that surrounds DIY wills is that users tend to leave out important information. When you lack the professional expertise required of a given process, it’s common practice to hire an expert to assist you.
Not only can an expert simplify the process for you but experts also carry a breadth of subject knowledge that allows them to address your specific situation and goals. It’s not uncommon for a novice to think they’ve done an adequate job when in reality they’ve failed to address several important aspects.
There are a number of common problems associated with do-it-yourself wills. For example, it’s not uncommon for individuals to mistakenly include important instructions in their wills that would be better suited elsewhere. This can happen with end-of-life instructions that are included in a will (rather than a living will) and wind up not being seen until after the death as a result. Similarly, individuals sometimes include funeral instructions in their will when typically wills are not addressed until after the funeral has taken place.
Another common mistaken is failing to coordinate beneficiaries among the various elements of your estate plan. For example, you may stipulate in your will that a certain family member should receive the funds from your retirement account. However, if when you opened the account you named a different person as beneficiary and never updated that information, the person listed on the account will take precedence despite the wishes conveyed in your will.
Also, keep in mind important family matters like naming a guardian for your children. It’s not uncommon for people to forget to have these designations specified in a legal document.
DIY Wills: What Are the Pros and Cons?
When it comes to drafting a will, the advantages of choosing the DIY route are pretty straightforward. A DIY will gives you the option of completing your will for relatively little time and cost. Essentially you’re opting to forego the services of an attorney and fill in the blanks on the forms provided by an online service.
If you’re an individual with a relatively modest estate, an uncomplicated family dynamic, and a very simple and straightforward plan for passing on your inheritance, this might be a good choice for you.
On the other hand, consider the disadvantages of a DIY will. While you might think that a DIY will is simply saving you time and money, it might also leave you with an inadequate will that ends up costing you those very things in the long run.
For example, an invalid or poorly executed will might end up causing headaches and issues for your family that requires a good amount of time and effort to sort out. Additionally, if your will is contested it could mean legal fees for your family. And in the event your will is found invalid it could cost your heirs their inheritance.
DIY wills also often fail to take into consideration larger financial implications, such as the possibility of estate taxes or adequately addressing the complexity of a blended family. Simple DIY forms and services will not be equipped to provide you with a complete estate plan.
DIY Wills: Closing Thoughts
The fact of the matter is that if you want a well-executed estate plan, there really aren’t any shortcuts that can achieve this for you. When using a DIY will service, you can’t expect much more beyond a fill-in-the-blank process with limited attorney consultation at best.
Drafting your will and estate plan is your opportunity to convey your wishes and preferences. You’ll want to complete this process in a way that ensures it will be upheld. Enlisting the expert advice of an attorney will help you reduce any potential confusion and provide you peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be properly carried out.
Regardless of which route you do end up taking, getting started and having a will in place sooner than later is very important. Be prepared for the unforeseeable events and keep your important documents and affairs up-to-date with new changes and circumstances. Taking the time now to thoughtfully and expertly conduct your estate plan is the only way to ensure it will be executed in the manner that you truly wish.