Self-preparation kits are becoming more popular but beware the hidden dangers of going it alone. If you are going to purchase a self-preparation kit or online document, you should only view it as preparation for a meeting with a trained professional – a licensed estate planning attorney.
The growing use of DIY will kits, now more readily available online, is causing concern at a time when the relatively wealthy baby boomer generation start to pass on their assets, or what’s left of them.
The concern is seen most often by probate attorneys who are seeing a rise in their work to unravel the issues with these self-help wills. These wills frequently include ambiguous provisions that family members dispute over, fail to include provisions establishing the validity of the will or are not executed properly.
We actively encourage all adults to make provision for their future, but most people have unique circumstances that require some modifications to any standard form to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.
Ironically, clients who come to our office most often claiming they just need a “simple will” are those with the most difficult issues to draft around. Divorces, multiple marriages, a mix of biological, adopted or step children, small business ownership, or any other complex financial affair or complicated family situation can all lead to complex drafting issues. Similarly, single individuals with few close family or friends can result in difficulty finding proper people to serve as executors, agents and trustees.
Designating executors to handle estate. If a choice is available you may not want to appoint a friend as an executor if they may not have the financial competence required. Another problem can arise you designate a person older than you to serve. They may die before you or be in poor health when you die and unable to handle administering an estate. Another issue that may raise concerns with your beneficiaries is if you appoint a business partner who might have a conflict of interest with your distribution plan. If family members are receiving different distributions from your estate, appointing one of them as executor could also raise conflicts of interest.
Finally, be sure you tell your family how to find your will. All the planning in the world will not help if your loved ones cannot locate the estate planning documents you signed. Ideally, you should review your plan with all family members together and with the attorney who drafted the document present. Sometimes despite the best planning and drafting, when confronted by family members the explanation mom or dad gives to the children is not the same as they requested the attorney to draft. So it is important that the understanding your loved ones receive actually coincides with what you included in your will.
❏ DIY and online wills should only be used as a planning guide; relying on them leads to problems.
❏ Choose an executor carefully.
❏ Don’t hide your will.