In the world of legal documents, sometimes having nothing is better than having something. If you pass away without a Will you would hardly be the first person – thousands of people die in the United States every day without having a Will – so there are default statutes that dictate how your estate shall be distributed. True, often times these default laws do not entirely fulfill your post-mortem desires, but they may be better than drafting a faulty document from an online web site, executing it incorrectly, or drafting in ambiguities that now require extra court interpretation (and attorney costs) when you do pass away. My advice: Work with an attorney to draft your Will, even if it’s a simple one, or even consider not doing one if you have a simple estate plan, and here is why:
- The online Will does not take your family situation into account. When you die your next of kin must be placed on notice of your Will, even if you have disinherited them, so many Wills state the named of your nearest family members. However, if you don’t have any spouse or children these online hack-jobs may state “I am unmarried and have no children” and…that’s it. No mention of who your actual nearest family members are. So, it is both wasted space in the Will and does nothing meaningful to help identify your next of kin.
- The online Will is not nuanced for state laws. Wills do have several similarities between states, and a Will that is valid in the state it is executed is valid in other states. But what if the hack-job is not initially valid in the state it was executed? What if the affidavit omits to include you’re swearing under oath the Will is valid (unnecessary in New York but needed in Connecticut and New Jersey). In addition, each state has different laws regarding special needs trusts, code sections, and other state-specific verbiage. It is nearly impossible for online companies to have one form of a Will that can cover each 50 states effectively.
- They can’t help you properly execute the Will. I have said this before: Even if the language in your Will is perfectly fine, there is still a 25% – 50% chance you will screw up the execution of the document. Online resources, of course, cannot oversee your signing of the document, can’t notarize the document, and can’t comment on when witnesses don’t do something correctly.
- It can’t help you with the work required outside of the Will. Let’s assume you beat the odds and have a document that a court shall someday find valid. Great. But how do you now properly title your beneficiary designation forms to fund your testamentary trust? Oh wait…you don’t know what that is? And what about the retirement plan you named your grandchild as beneficiary under…did you know he can’t receive it if he is less than the age of majority, but at the same time is required to take distributions? Of course, you didn’t, because this stuff is tough, that’s why attorneys go to law school and continuing education and have years of work experience before they begin working on your own estate plan, unlike some computer programmer or pseudo-cult financial industry professional trying to hock a few more products to make a quick buck off of you for a product that will end up being useless or worse.
As I have stated, I am 100% for people who can actually pull off their own Will preparation and execution: They are likely not going to make good clients anyway, and most attorneys do as well with do-it-yourselfers as they do with drinking vinegar in their latte. But I far more often see problems created by simple Wills for simple families that actually end up confusing their case (and adding far more post-mortem costs) than if they had done nothing at all.