For the average person, the first step in creating an estate plan is drafting and executing a Last Will and Testament. If you are just now contemplating the steps you need to take to get started on your first estate plan, you may be tempted to try taking a shortcut that includes using a DIY Will instead of working with an experienced estate planning attorney. Doing so will save you both time and money and finally get your estate plan started, right? It’s just a simple Will after all…how complicated can it be? The old adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t” applies here. In the end, your loved ones will more often than not end up paying the price if you chose not to work with an estate planning lawyer when you create your Will.
Your Simple Will Isn’t So Simple
The foundation of most initial estate plans is a simple Will. We use the term “simple” Will; however, that term is somewhat deceiving considering what you accomplish with that document. A simple Will allows you to accomplish four important things:
- Ensure that you do not leave behind an intestate estate. If you die without executing a Will, your estate will be distributed using the State of South Dakota intestate succession laws, meaning the State will decide who gets your assets instead of you deciding.
- Make specific or general gifts to loved ones and/or organizations. You can make specific and general bequests in your Will. A specific bequest might include leaving your baseball card collection to your nephew whereas a general bequest would be if you left your nephew half of your estate assets.
- Appoint an Executor to oversee the probate of your estate. After your death, your estate will likely need to go through the legal process known as probate. In your Will, you appoint someone as the Executor of your estate. Your Executor will oversee the probate process from start to finish.
- Nominate a Guardian for your minor children. If you have minor children, or plan to in the future, your only opportunity to tell a court who you would want to have legal guardianship over those children in the event one is needed is in your Will.
Why You Need an Estate Planning Lawyer to Help Create Your Will
While you can find DIY legal forms in the internet rather easily, the fact that they are easy to find doesn’t mean they should be used for something as important as creating your Will. Consider the following common problems with DIY Wills:
- Failure to distribute the entire estate – one of the most common problems with a DIY Will is failure to distribute the entire estate. One of the primary reasons for executing a Will is to avoid intestate succession laws. If any assets are left out of your Will, however, an intestate estate proceeding will have to be initiated. Unfortunately, the language in many DIY Wills does just that – results in assets being left out, triggering the state’s intestate succession laws.
- Out of date language or law – most DIY Last Will and Testament forms have been floating around the internet for years. Applicable laws may have changed in the interim, making some of the language in the form, or the entire form, stale from a legal standpoint. If the language used in the form is out of date it will almost certainly prompt litigation.
- Failed interaction between documents – using a DIY Will is problematic by itself; however, most people don’t stop there. Your estate planning documents must work in harmony with each other. The more DIY legal forms you try and use together, the higher the odds are that they will result in failure because you need experienced legal advice to accomplish this.
- Not state specific – many of the laws that govern wills and estates are state laws. For this reason, a Last Will and Testament must be state specific to ensure it will be valid. Many DIY forms, however, are generic and do not include state specific language and/or laws.
- Improper execution – for a Will to be valid, it must be executed using the proper procedures. Those procedures vary from one state to the next. A generic DIY Will form won’t explain how you need to execute the document to comply with your state’s laws.
Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer
Please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you wish to discuss creating your Last Will and Testament with an experienced estate planning lawyer, contact the estate planning lawyers at German Law Group by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.