Having you been thinking lately about the need to create your Last Will and Testament? If so, you may be tempted to use one of the “Do-It-Yourself” Wills you can easily find online or at a local stationary store. In today’s electronic age it is certainly not difficult to locate DIY legal documents; however, just because they are readily available does not mean you should give in to the temptation to use one. It may seem as though using one of the DIY Wills you find online will save you time and money. The reality, however, is that using a DIY Will may ultimately cost your loved ones considerably more in terms of both time and money than what you save because boilerplate legal documents, including Wills, often do not work as intended.
Why You Need a Will
For most people, a Last Will and Testament serves as the foundation for a more thorough estate plan. If you are just now considering executing a Will you are certainly on the right track to protecting you, your estate, and your loved ones. Even if the value of your estate at the moment is relatively modest, you should still have a Will in place because your Will allows you to do three important things:
- Decide who will receive your estate assets when you die. Without a Will your state intestate succession laws will determine what happens to your estate assets. Though you may not yet have made your fortune, you undoubtedly have assets that mean something to you. As such, you surely want the opportunity to decide who receives those assets when you die.
- Decide who will be the Executor of your estate. Your Executor will oversee the probate of your estate. The right Executor can move the probate process along at minimal cost to the estate. The wrong Executor can tie up estate assets for months, even years, and cost the estate a small fortune.
- Nominate a guardian for your minor children should one ever be needed. Your Will is the only opportunity you have to tell a judge who you would appoint as your child’s guardian.
What Happens If You Die without a Will in Place?
If you die without leaving behind a valid Last Will and Testament, the New Hampshire (or whatever state you are a resident of at the time of your death) intestate succession laws will apply. First, the court will have to appoint a Personal Representative to oversee the probate of your estate. Anyone who is competent can petition for the position; however, if no one petitions the court will appoint someone who never knew you to the position. Second, if a guardian is needed for your minor child the court will have to decide who to appoint without your input. Finally, the intestate succession laws will dictate who receives all of your assets and in what proportion. This means that promises you made to friends and non-immediate family members will not be kept.
The Unintended Consequences of DIY Wills
Although you may think you are saving yourself time and money by using a DIY Will, the unintended negative consequences can be extremely costly. Just a few of the most common problems with DIY Wills include:
- Not state specific – most laws relating to the disposition of your estate are state laws. Many DIY forms, however, are generic and do not take state laws into account. If the Will does not comply with state law, it will likely be declared invalid.
- Out of date – laws relating to wills, trusts, and estates can change at any time. There is no way to know if the DIY form you are using is current and reflects recent changes in the law. If the language or execution of the Will fails to comply with the current form of the law, it may be challenged and found to be invalid.
- Failure to execute properly – many DIY Wills do not explain how a Will must be executed in order to comply with state law. An improperly executed Will is an invalid Will.
- Incomplete – because every estate is unique, a single DIY form cannot possibly hope to cover all the possible issues a Testator may have when creating a Will. The end result is often an incomplete Will that fails to provide for the distribution of your entire estate.
What all of these unintended consequences have in common is that they result in an invalid Will. That, in turn, may lead to costly litigation, both in terms of time and money. In the long run, the time and money you invest in working with an experienced estate planning attorney now will likely save your loved ones both in the future.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding DIY Wills, or would like to get started creating your own Last Will and Testament with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, contact the New Hampshire estate planning attorneys at Debruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.