LegalZoom, Momma-Bear and other do-it-yourself document preparation services advertise that making a Will is as easy. Although, it does not need to be complicated under the guidance of a knowledgeable lawyer, a DIY approach of filling in blanks on standardized forms, is no easy feat.
We all heard the saying: “You get what you pay for!” and with legal planning this is most certainly the case. Companies that try sell you a “fast” and “cheap” fix try to make you believe that their product gives you “peace of mind”, yet there is no such thing. On the surface, things will appear calm, collected and totally fine, but underneath the surface they tell you in their fine print their product is all but reassuring. Statements like “We are not a law firm”, “We do not practice law”, “We are not your Attorney”, “Our Service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney”, and so on, are all over their disclaimers, fine print in hard to find places. They are telling you their product most likely will not work for you without customization, but that very important fact seems to have become an after thought in the “Fast and cheap fix” economy of mass consumers.
We have seen people come to our office with these documents, and no, not to get the additional legal advice, but to probate them. Their loved one died, thinking all was okay, and now we have to clean up the mess. Common issues that we find is that we can not find the witnesses, or that it was not witnessed correctly. We see cases where notaries serve as witnesses, or simply forget to affix their notary stamp to the document!
We come across DIY Wills without executor, or an alternate executor, without the option of independent administration, or waiver of bond. Sometimes assets are instructed to be handed down via a will, but end up not being probate assets because there were beneficiary designations, POD’s or other transfers going on, sometimes it is exactly the opposite because the beneficiary designation failed and mom or dad made promises that were not reflected in their will(s). Sometimes we see minor or special needs beneficiaries get into additional court proceedings over their inheritance, loose government benefits or need guardianship because their parents estate plan did not address their special circumstance. This list goes on… there are sadly many things that can go wrong.
If you like to know more, we would love to sit down with you and explain what can happen to you and your family, and we will help you plan so they don’t happen to you… because we are aware what cheap and “false peace of mind” during the testator’s lifetime, can do to those they left behind. Probate does not need to be a nightmare for many of the loved ones. Wills should not creating longer and more costly probate procedures, and definitely should not leave people without a valid will at all. We can even help you create a Revocable Living Trust so you may avoid probate all together. You have options, and we are here to help you find them.
The goal of a good estate plan is to create a fast and easy process for your loved ones to follow during your incapacity and after your death. If your plan fails to do so, your plan isn’t a plan and merely a wish. A good estate planning attorney will work with you to ensure your needs, goals and wishes are reflected in your plan. A good plan will have much more than just “boilerplate” or standardized language. There will be alternatives, backups in case of other eventualities (because life is unpredictable) and most important yet, there will be a way to ensure you can update your plan, because afterall, it’s just that, a plan. Circumstances change, and so must plans to work.
Planning is not a one time event, Wills must change as the law changes, life circumstances change, and new needs and challenges arise. DIY forms do not provide for these. So next time you look into DIY plans, check out the fine print, disclaimers and true meaning behind their words, because most forms will not cover you or your personal circumstances. Do not create a false sense of security for yourself, as it is others who will pay the price when they least likely expect it.
Keep in mind creating a Will does not need to be very complicated, yet leaving out vital parts, or even not complying with the legal requirements may make a will invalid, complicate probate or have unintended consequences. It is therefore important to work with a licensed Texas Attorney, as well as making sure you talk to one ever 3-5 years to ensure your estate plan (Trust, Will, Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, etc.) still meets all the requirements necessary to reach your ultimate goals, because laws change constantly, and not every estate plan fits everyone’s needs.