DIY Wills Have Issues

The Experts by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps
(French, Paris 1803–1860 Fontainebleau)

Some things must be left to professionals, and your last will and testament is absolutely one of them. When my car makes a funny noise (and it does!), I take it to my mechanic because he is a pro. He studies, he trains, and he has years of knowledge to back up his repairs.

I spend most of my time as a lawyer focused on wills and estates. Even though my office is just 4 years old, I can’t call myself an expert but I am a pro. So … let me tell you about something that makes me sad for my clients: DIY wills.

I see DIY (do it yourself) wills in my office regularly. Some people bring them for review, some I see when it’s too late to correct problems either because the writer, the testator, has lost the capacity or has passed away and is now the decedent–subject of probate. I am always frustrated with the latter two situations because all we can do is clean up a mess. Because the testator tried to save some money, the family often pays for more complicated probate proceedings.

What I see most often is “interested” witnesses signing off on the will. An interested witness is someone who has some stake in the will, either as a beneficiary, a relative, or someone named as executor or trustee. A witness cannot be “interested” without causing serious problems after the testator’s death. An interested witness may be faced with giving up whatever gift was left to him in the will or being disqualified to serve as the testator wished.

DIY wills give you a false sense of security because you just don’t know all the ways a will may be invalidated. So often they are only worth the paper on which they are printed. Spend some time interviewing an estate planning attorney, usually it takes an hour, and find out from a pro what you need and how much you can expect to pay. Gather the information that can save your family thousands.