Before you read this, make sure you’ve already read my previous post about the basics of will writing.
How to Write a Will, Part 3: The DIY Approach
Sure, you can turn your computer on and write a will on your own, completely from scratch. However, if you want a little assistance in the process, you can definitely lean on pre-existing forms and templates out there.
One great resource is Rocket Lawyer, which has a fairly simple last will and testament form that you can fill out in no time. LegalZoom also offers a quick, online process for creating your will.
Yes, there are absolutely free, ready-to-use forms that you can download online. However, one of the biggest challenges of these one-size fits all forms is that they don’t take into account your personal and family situation, and they don’t necessarily follow your state’s laws. Use them at your own peril.
Perils of Writing Your Own Will
It sure can be tempting to want to write your own will. After all, we just mentioned that wills can be a fairly straightforward process, and that plug and play templates do exist out there. However, there are certainly downsides to writing your own will as opposed to working with an attorney to get it done. Here are just a few reasons you should take pause before going the DIY will route.
You focus on money, not enough on people. It’s easy to get caught up with bank accounts and real estate when you go off to write a will. But it can be all too easy to forget and fully plan for children or dependent adults when writing a will…even though this is a huge benefit that wills provide.
Your will gets outdated. The first time you write a will, it might be completely accurate and account for all your property and loved ones. But, over time, it may become outdated. It’s likely that children will be born and older loved ones will pass away, making your will’s provisions no longer fully accurate. When you create a DIY will, it’s all too easy to forget to keep it updated.
You overlook estate or inheritance tax issues. Let’s be honest. Almost no one except a tax lawyer really understands or remembers all of the tax laws floating around. If your will does include substantial financial sums and you write the will yourself, you likely won’t be minimizing your estate taxes.
You overlook state laws. Each state has its own unique laws, and your will needs to follow those laws to be completely legal. When you write a will yourself, you may unintentionally not follow the rules of your state, which could nullify your will and make it go into intestate succession, a process that gives the courts control over how to disperse your estate.
Your mistakes aren’t obvious until after you pass away. It’s not likely that anyone is scrutinizing the will you write while you’re alive. Unfortunately, this also means that if you made mistakes in your DIY will, no one will find out until it’s too late for you to fix them.
If you want to write a will, you now know some of the major pitfalls people face. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create a DIY will. It just means you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of doing it yourself versus working with an attorney.
Thomas Babson Kane is an attorney in Glastonbury, CT, specializing in Estate Planning and Real Estate law.