How Good Are Internet Wills?

Some people, especially in my home state of Texas, are naturally self-reliant and prefer to do things themselves instead of hiring a professional.  My father was one of those people.  If there was a problem with our plumbing, electrical, heating or air-conditioning or even adding a room onto the house, he didn’t call skilled professionals for repairs or advice-he did it himself.  Most of the time, his work was good enough.

But sometimes . . .  well you probably can guess that sometimes things took longer than expected or did not end well at all because there were some not so obvious things that professionals knew to do or look for that a do-it-yourselfer would not necessarily know.

Today’s internet resources and software applications make it possible to do things that would otherwise require special training or expertise.  With the help of good software and internet services, we can prepare our own tax returns, keep our own accounting records, compare insurance, design the floor plan of a new house, edit photographs, and the list goes on.

But should you try to do your own estate planning and write your own will using internet forms?  Sometimes the answer to that question is NO, especially if your family situation or assets are complicated.  But for many people, a so-called DIY Will, like my father’s do-it-yourself home repair, is good enough.

Here are Ten (10) Guidelines for preparing your own will on a legal form website:

  1. Understand that the trade-off for a low-cost DIY will is you sacrifice the full benefit of meeting with an attorney for a review of your estate planning needs and a customized estate plan.
  2. Be sure the website provides estate planning documents specific to your state—because state laws do differ, and some of these differences can affect the validity of your documents.
  3. Even though you only want to pay for one specific estate planning document, the site you choose should at least offer three essential estate planning documents for a simple estate:
    1. Last will and testament.
    2. Statutory durable power of attorney (for financial affairs).
    3. Medical power of attorney (sometimes called a health care proxy).
  4. Understand that internet wills are helpful for the most straightforward estate planning situations: for example, if you want to leave everything outright to your spouse, or to your children in equal shares. If you have something more complicated in mind, trying to force a complicated distribution of your estate into a DIY will could cause unexpected problems and expense for your surviving loved ones.  
  5. DIY wills are more difficult and less likely to be effective if you or your spouse have children from another relationship or children with disabilities or addictions.
  6. DIY wills are not as likely to use the best available tax planning measures if you have a large or complicated estate.
  7. DIY wills are not always effective to place special conditions on a person’s inheritance or use of your assets when you die or if you want to disinherit specific people under specific circumstances.
  8. If you want to give a specific person the power to distribute your assets however that person chooses or according to your orally stated wishes or instructions, this kind of provision must be carefully drafted or it could be considered a failed gift. If that happens, your estate could be distributed according to state law.  It is best not to use a DIY form for this kind of disposition.
  9. Do not finalize your will unless you are sure that you understood and followed the instructions exactly. Many of the problems I have encountered trying to probate DIY wills were caused by the person not following or not understanding the instructions.
  10. Finally, look for a service that at least has an option to have an attorney review your completed estate planning documents, answer questions, supervise the signing ceremony, or take over the process for you if it becomes too difficult for you to complete.

A service that I highly recommend, in fact it is one that I offer and stand behind, is GUIDR® , which guides you through an online estate planning process that allows you to choose the level of attorney involvement you want—from no involvement at all, to an attorney review of your documents to be sure you have not made an unnoticed mistake.  You can even choose to have my office supervise the signing process after you have drafted your own documents.

Prices for a DIY will on GUIDR can be less than 20% of the standard fee for estate planning by an attorney.

CLICK HERE for more information about preparing your own will using GUIDR® online.


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