Legal and Financial Risks of a Do It Yourself Will
Assuming you meet the technical requirements of a valid will and are of sound mind, it is possible to have a "do it yourself" will. It is important to understand the practical, legal and financial risks of taking that approach.
Practical Risks of a DIY Will
Even if you create a valid will with witness signatures, it will not be a "self-proving will." This means that your family will have to "prove" your will in the Probate Court in order for the assets to distribute. One of your witnesses will have to go to the probate court to attest to the validity of the will, or all heirs will have to assent to the probate of the will.
This can create a significant hurdle for your loved ones, especially if the will is presented to court many years after you signed it. They may also have to spend thousands of dollars in court costs and fees to get through the required proceedings.
In addition, there are things you can do in a properly drafted will that streamline the process for your family. Some examples of the practical problems your family members will face if your will is not done properly:
Legal Risks of a DIY Will
There are many things you can miss in a will that is not drafted by an attorney. Here are some examples:
Financial Risks of a DIY Will
In addition to the legal risks of drafting your own will, there are some significant potential financial consequences if you create estate planning documents without help from an expert in this area. These include:
Why There is No Reason to Do It Yourself
Getting a lawyer to review and prepare your estate planning documents is not as hard as you might think. The cost of preparing your estate plan may not be something you had in your budget. At the same time, you should consider the potential for tax exposure of over $36,000 without proper planning for state or federal estate tax. You should also remember that the cost of the probate process without a plan can eat up 3-6% of your total estate.
In comparison, what you will need to spend for an estate plan is minor, and invaluable in terms of your own peace of mind.
Some Things You Can Do Yourself
There are things you can do without the help of a lawyer than can ensure certain assets pass to the people you love. If you have life insurance or retirement accounts, those will go to whoever you identify in the beneficiary designations. Joint bank accounts will pass to the joint account holder. Many banks and financial institutions also allow you to fill out a "payable on death" form to identify who gets control of the account upon your passing.
Ideally these are steps you take in conjunction with legal advice, a comprehensive estate plan, and legal documents prepared by an estate planning attorney. But these are steps you can take on your own to address at least some of your assets.
A Note About Online Wills and Online Forms
The internet has many online wills and online forms available for you to use in your estate planning. There is also legal software where you can plug in your information and it spits out wills and trusts.
These documents may or may not have been prepared by attorneys, and may or may not have been customized to reflect your state's laws. Even with the best of them, they are no replacement for a full analysis of your financial and family situation and your goals to come up with a plan that can meet those goals.
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