The Issues with Do-It-Yourself Wills

Clients have come to me bearing copies of their Last Will and Testament documents, which they created through do-it-yourself software kits or on-line estate planning services. They offer these Wills to me for a quick review, believing them to be adequate representations of their wishes, and merely wanting confirmation of these beliefs.

In an age and economy where “do-it-yourself” projects are not only encouraged but often a badge of honor, more people are attempting to save time and money by creating and executing their own Wills. The results, however, are frequently not as laudable as the clients’ intentions. I have yet to review a do-it-yourself Will that has fully and completely reflected a client's wishes, and have even reviewed some with fundamental flaws and contradictions. (Add to that a do-it-yourself Trust and the potential for mistakes and inaccuracies may rise exponentially.)

Of course it is possible that some do-it-yourself estate planning programs will produce documents with the desired results, particularly if the users’ life situations conform exactly with the line of questioning produced by the software or online programs. And if and when the do-it-yourself documents “get it right,” perhaps there will be savings of a few hundred dollars and some hours of time.

The problem is that if the Wills are incomplete, inaccurate, imprecise in any manner, the issues will not be discovered until the Wills are offered to probate, at which time the authors, then deceased, have no ability to clarify or correct the documents. If the Wills were also not executed properly, the Court may reject them from the probate process, or if the problem is with the language of the documents, there may be other issues, such as unnecessary taxes due, heirs omitted by accident, or any number of other problems that can result in (at best) survivors’ confusion and hurt feelings or (at worst) full-fledged litigation. These are usually not the outcomes the decedents were trying to produce.

Wills are documents where it pays to get it right. For many clients, just knowing that their wishes are clearly and accurately portrayed in their Wills offers peace of mind. An initial savings of dollars and time may not be worth the hassle of then having to get the do-it-yourself Wills reviewed and possibly rewritten by an estate planning attorney.

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