The Dangers of DIY Wills

Everyone loves to save time and money, and DIY estate planning seems like a perfect opportunity to do both. Sites like LegalZoom.com and RocketLawyer.com came on the scene a few years back and have steadily gained a following. Experts estimate that more than 1 million individuals use these sites every year to create wills and other estate documents.

At first glance, it's a no-brainer solution. For only $69 and 30 minutes of your time, LegalZoom will walk you through the process of creating a basic will. When estate planning is usually seen as an expensive hassle, it's easy to see why so many people are interested in this kind of quick, cheap, DIY option.

But legal and financial experts agree that DIY wills are a clear-cut case of buyer beware. Here are four reasons why DIY wills are a definite don't:

1. Estate planning is not one-size-fits-all.
The biggest issue with online and DIY wills is lack of flexibility. This equates to lack of customizability, which can cause big problems. Even if your family and financial situations are straightforward, you may still find the lack of options frustrating. Your family and your assets are not the same as your neighbor's, so your will shouldn't be, either.

2. To err is human.
Most online DIY will programs walk you through a series of questions in an interview format. You type (or mistype) in your answers, and that information flows into a set template. During one tester's review of LegalZoom, the site presented him with the following fact: 80 percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly. Any mistakes, from misspelling someone's name to misplacing a decimal point and leaving your son $200.000 instead of $200,000, can mean the difference between your wishes being carried out and loved ones being left out entirely.

3. Your state may not state the obvious.
Federal tax laws are anything but simple, and state laws are even more inscrutable. For example, each state has different requirements for how the will is signed and witnessed. DIY will products usually don't address state-specific requirements, so you could easily end up invalidating your own will because your witnesses signed it one at a time instead of all at once (which is required in some states).

4. There's no going back.
So your DIY will has a few mistakes; can't you just go back in and fix them? Maybe. But the real issues that could arise from errors in the will won't come to light until after your death, when it's too late to fix things. Once you're gone, things could get expensive and downright contentious for your loved ones if your DIY will doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

This isn't to say that DIY will products are useless; in fact, experts agree that the best use for these online DIY programs is education. Planning information may be simpler to understand in the interview-style format, and the links and glossaries can help you master specific terminology and get familiar with the planning process itself. Plus, the questions will get you thinking about your answers. Then, when you do meet with an estate planning attorney, you can put your new knowledge to good use, saving yourself time and money.

We are happy to help you start the important process of planning for your loved ones' future. Contact Jackie Peterson at 507-933-7543 or jpeters9@gustavus.edu today for more information or download our FREE Personal Estate Planning Kit.