You hear these things advertised on the radio all the time. The DIY or Do-it-yourself wills. It would appear by listening to these ads that the Will is little more than form filling. As opposed to doing nothing, perhaps this is the better option. But there are many things you need to consider when writing a Will that just does not show up as a list of options on a form that you fill in.
The problem with a DIY Will is that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know. A person executing a Will is known as the Testator. Obviously the primary concern with a DIY Will is that the Testator expresses his or her wishes accurately and executes the document correctly. Even if the DIY Will provides the correct instructions for completing and executing the document, does the Testator know what some provisions mean? Let’s take an example of placing conditions on a beneficiary’s inheritance. If the Will states a beneficiary cannot inherit until he or she is 30 years of age, does the Testator know what happens if that beneficiary is not 30 years of age when the Will comes into play? Does the Testator know a testamentary trust is created in the probate court? Does he or she know what is involved with a testamentary trust? Does he or she consider who to name as trustee and what authority to grant that trustee?
When I first started doing estate planning, the shock to me was how many new questions arose in the course of my interviews with clients. I should have known it going in, I guess, but I thought people would come to the office having carefully considered their estate plans and having decided exactly what they wanted. I found that even the clients who thought they knew exactly what they wanted had not considered all the potential scenarios I raised in our meeting. They needed time to go home, discuss those things and consider various options. Based upon issues I brought to their attention, clients had questions for me about how things worked. I think that collaboration with an estate planning attorney has value and makes it much more likely that a testator’s estate plan will carry out his or her wishes.
Can a DIY Will work effectively for some people? Sure it can. Obviously, the simpler the estate plan the more likely a DIY Will can be effective. But if you have any degree of complexity, the money you think you might have saved up front could just end up in probate.