Today, once again, I was presented a will that a man downloaded from the internet. He prepared the will using one of the popular on-line websites, had it signed and witnessed … But not notarized. The personal representative (executrix), in this case his wife, brought it to me to begin the process of transferring his “stuff ” to the people he named in his will. Yikes! I had to break the bad news to her; the will was useless. In this particular case, it made a big difference. The house she thought would be hers was titled wrong and needed to be transferred through probate. Now, their minor daughter would become a partial owner, because, without a will, New Mexico law divides the estate one quarter to the surviving spouse and three quarters to the children. Yep, they saved lawyers’ fees, but the result was not what they expected.
My 22 years being an attorney has taught me one big lesson, if you are not an attorney, don’t try to do your own legal work. Estate planning is one area where one litttttttttle mistake will not be found until it is too late, then the whole plan either collapses or doesn’t turn out the way it was intended. Recently, the popularity of Do-It-Yourself documents has mushroomed. People find that they can cruise the internet to find instructions and videos to accomplish all kinds of things, thus saving the cost of hiring a professional. However, remember these DIY estate plans are one size fits all. What is right for one person can be a disaster for another person with a disabled child or spouse. Indeed, in most cases, these DIY plans lead to more costs for the family in the long run with increased legal fees and disputes. Courts are full of lawsuits with family members suing each other over unclear language in a homemade will or trust. If you do not believe me Google “Train Wrecks of Estate Planning,” it will give you a few laughs, but the sad fact is the stories are all true.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. It is easy to make a mistake if you do not know what you are doing.
2. No legal advice is given with the on-line estate planning services, so you will not know if you are filling out the form correctly or with the correct language.
3. Each state has its own laws regarding powers of attorney, estate planning, and estate probate and are subject to change. What is safe in Idaho may not work so well in New Mexico.
4. Correcting mistakes will very likely be expensive, so the money you save using an on-line service can multiply exponentially.
5. Changing wills or trusts drafted by an attorney to eliminate the cost of a codicil (amendment) could very well invalidate the entire document.
6. An estate planning or elder law attorney specializes in this type of law and will make sure the plan you get is custom tailored to your exact needs.
Talking with an estate planning attorney has the benefit of addressing your unique situations and developing a cohesive plan, not a document.
To learn more about estate planning come to the Estrada Law Estate Planning Workshop, call 556-2462 to reserve your seat. Also, check out our website at PlanItForward.com for estate planning and elder law information and news.