IT’S ON THE INTERNET
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
We live in a do-it-yourself (DIY) society, and the legal world is no different. Popular websites give the impression that it’s easy and cheap to create your own estate planning documents. Hey, the Internet says it’s true! What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, it turns out. Here are some recent DIY disasters that I have encountered in my practice:
- A husband and wife created internet wills leaving all their property to each other, then witnessed each other’s will, which meant that any provision for them in the will (everything!) was voided - that's right, they got nothing.
- A husband named his church as Executor of his DIY will that left everything to his wife. When he died, much time and money was spent getting the church to decline to serve, and then having the wife (who wasn't named) legally qualified to serve.
- A single woman left her modest estate to her daughter in her DIY will, but the will did not waive the time-consuming and expensive requirements of filing inventories and annual returns. Because of one missing paragraph, most of her estate was eaten up in accomplishing these unnecessary actions.
- A high-level business executive drafted his own will, dividing up his complex estate among his current wife and his children from two previous marriages. While he thought his will was clear, the self-drafted language was ambiguous, and two years and more than $40,000.00 in attorneys’ fees and costs were spent sorting it all out. His hopes for family harmony after his death were destroyed.
All these good people thought they were protecting their loved ones and saving a few bucks. What they had was a false sense of security. All the internet legal sites state that they are not giving legal advice, but that is not my problem with them. My beef with them is that they give the false and dangerous impression that estate planning is easy and can be accomplished without legal advice.
Estate planning is not just filling in the blanks on a computer. What controls the destiny of your loved ones, and what requires excellent legal advice and judgment, is knowing what to put in the blanks and how to draft the language. A skilled and experienced advisor can help you decide: (1) Who will represent the estate? (2) Who will take care of your children? (3) To whom, how and in what form should your property be distributed? (4) What is "probate" and what passes inside and outside of probate? (5) Who should handle your financial affairs if you are alive but incapacitated? (6) Who should make medical decisions for you if are no longer able to make your own? (7) What are the pros and cons of a living trust? (8) What about estate taxes?
Once these questions are answered, your documents need to be expertly drafted to make sure your wishes are carried out. A misplaced word or a missing or confusing phrase can spell disaster.
My mom always said, "Don't leave a mess for someone else to clean up." Never does that hold more true than in the world of estate planning. Don't trust the fate of your loved ones to the internet! For a free consultation, call me, John O. "Jack" Moore at (770) 277-7767 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.