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Should You Write Your Own Will During Quarantine?

In light of COVID, many people are finally becoming aware of the importance of creating or updating their estate planning documents. With the restraints still in place on what we can and cannot do freely anymore and while it may be tempting to create your documents on your own through an online “do it yourself” (DIY) document creator, here are 7 reasons why you should not undertake this without the help of a professional:

1. It’s Misleading

Much of the general public seems to view Legal Zoom as an adequate substitute for an attorney and so is led to believe that you’re getting pretty much the same thing for a cheaper fee. We all want peace of mind knowing that our affairs are in order.

Legal Zoom asks you a series of questions to answer and then spits out a document. But, to wiggle its way out of problems, they also have the following disclaimer:

“We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal …. options, selection of forms or strategies.”

That disclaimer does not give peace of mind

2. A DIY Estate Plan Could Contain Inaccurate, Incomplete or Contradictory Info

If you attempt to create a Will using an online questionnaire, there is a very real possibility that you may select the wrong option or leave out important information that could prevent your Will from accomplishing your goals. If the service allows you to insert custom wording, you may enter provisions that conflict with other provisions in the Will.

You could actually be making things worse than if you did nothing at all.

3. Mistakes in Signing the Documents Can Easily Be Made

Certain requirements must be met for Wills and other estate planning documents to be legally valid. For example, you actually have to sign it! I had a lengthy probate matter years ago in which a man had a Will but he never signed it. So, he did not have a Will; all he had were pieces of paper and yet he passed thinking he had a Will.

In addition, a Will requires witnesses and should be notarized. However, only certain people should serve as witnesses. The online service cannot properly sign your documents; you’re on your own.

Will you have your documents signed properly?

4. Your DIY Estate Plan May Not Account for Changing Life Circumstances

Here are just a few examples:

  • If you create a Will in which you leave everything to your two children, what happens if one of those children dies before you? Will that child’s share go entirely to his or her sibling—or will it go to the child’s children?

  • What if one of your children has creditor issues? Is it okay with you if the money or property the child inherits is vulnerable to claims of the child’s creditors?

  • What if your Will states your daughter will receive the family home as her only inheritance, but it is sold shortly before you die? Will she inherit anything

5. Assets May Be Left Out of Your Estate Plan

Many people do not realize that a revocable trust can be a better estate planning tool than a Will for a variety of reasons, like for incapacity planning and probate avoidance.

Even if you have created a DIY trust, if you do not “fund" it (i.e., transfer title of your money and property into the name of the trust) it may be ineffective and your loved ones will still have to deal with the probate process to finish what you started. Also, you must continue funding it throughout your life as you acquire more assets.

If it’s not funded, what did you pay for?

6. A DIY Plan May Not be Coordinated with Your Other Assets

Clients overlook the fact that not everything passes according to what your Will or Trust says. In general, things like retirement plans and life insurance policies pass outside your Will and go straight to the person named on the beneficiary form. But, these assets may need to be coordinated with your Will or Trust.

Are your retirement plans, life insurance policies and annuities coordinated with your plan?

7. When Will Mistakes Be Discovered?

There are many DIY matters where the consequences, if done wrong, are not a big deal.

However, with estate planning, much of the time it’s not until AFTER someone dies that the mistakes are discovered – pretty difficult to make corrections after the person is dead!

How Do You Know If You Did It Right?

What Are the Consequences If you Do It Wrong?

We Can Help!

A DIY estate plan can lead to a false sense of security because it may not achieve what you think it does. If your DIY Will is not valid, your assets will go to your heirs specified by South Carolina law—who may not be the people you would have chosen. Banks may not accept a generic power of attorney you found on the internet. Laws affecting your estate plan may change. Hamrick Law is here to help and give you peace of mind.

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