A writer for a prominent news site recently put out an inquiry for tips on making a will online. As an estate planning attorney for more than 25 years, my advice was this: Don't do it.
Buying a pair of shoes online is one thing, but drafting a will online is another. If your goal is to save money by using legal forms or a template found on the internet, you and your family could be in for a rude awakening. Think of it like this: You wouldn't perform dental surgery on yourself, would you? Of course not! You would go to someone who has spent years in school studying how to perform dental surgery, understands the risks, and can provide appropriate follow-up care. The same should be true for legal documents - especially ones that involved life's most personal decisions, like who you want to receive which of your assets (and when you want them to receive them) after you're gone.
Not only is it essential to have a lawyer draft your will, but it's also important to make sure that you see a lawyer who specializes in estate law. Here's why: A will is only one piece of the estate planning puzzle. A comprehensive estate plan goes far beyond the who, what, and when of inheritance. It addresses decisions that impact you both while you're alive and long after you're gone. Every person, regardless of the value of their estate, needs documents that identify who they want making financial, medical, parental, and/or business decisions for you in the event that you become mentally or physically incapacitated. An estate plan also provides assurances in the case of divorce, remarriage, troubled heirs, special needs children, aging parents, business succession, and much more. Additionally, laws are different among the different states, and they change constantly! Only an experienced estate planning understands the nuances of federal and state estate and tax laws and keeps abreast of changes to those laws.
Sometimes people think that after they’ve done their will and other estate planning documents, they never have to look at them again. This is not the case. Unchecked, things as simple as moving to a neighboring state or forgetting to change a beneficiary designation on a retirement form can result in irreparable damage and wind up costing you ten times the amount you saved by doing documents yourself. You also risk having decisions made for you by a court, resulting in outcomes you did not intend.
The bottom line? Make sure that your documents are legally sound, tailored to your wishes, and offer you the full protections that the law has to offer. Work with an experienced estate lawyer and steer clear of Do-It-Yourself legal documents!