You can download just about anything online these days: movies, games, and even a do-it-yourself will.
But, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it, and a DIY Will definitely falls in that latter category. Even if you think your estate is simple, there are often things you don’t consider.
As a longtime probate lawyer in South Florida, I’ve seen too many cases of people who thought they would save money by drafting their own will, only to leave behind complications, delays, and in many cases, extra expenses for their heirs. For a document so important to your family and friends, a will is one area where you should definitely hire a professional.
Here are 5 reasons a DIY will is a bad idea:
- Florida law constrains who can be your personal representative. A PR is the person you name to find all your assets and work with the courts to properly pass them to the rightful heirs. You may want to choose someone who cannot serve according to Florida law. Similarly, most people making a DIY will don’t think about what happens if the PR they name predeceases them or doesn’t want to serve. A professional takes all of that into account when drafting your will with you.
- Typos in DIY wills are more common than you think. According to an article in Forbes magazine advocating against drafting your own will, one person left “200.000” to his sister, inserting a period where there should have been a comma, which set off a battle among the family. Another neglected to change the “insert name here” space-filler in his downloaded will to an actual name, so no one knew who he meant to leave that money to. I have also seen wills that leave assets to someone listed only by first name rather than their full name, and a will where the sentence stipulating what was to happen to his prized possession was cut off the page.
- Some assets don’t get passed to heirs via a will. You may think you’re evening the score by leaving your bank account to your son and your property to your daughter, but if your bank account is a joint account in the name of you and your brother, that money automatically goes to your sibling, bypassing the probate altogether. Ditto for life insurance, many pensions, and CDs. To have these properly left to the people you want them to, you need to name them as beneficiaries in the documents themselves.
- You miss out on important legal counsel. I spend a lot of time walking clients through their various options. This is especially important for people on second (or third) marriages, parents estranged from children, or those with grown kids of varying income potential. What’s more, people often forget to name a guardian for their child (perhaps the most important element of a will if you have underage kids), leave assets to their pets (they cannot inherit under the law), or place illegal conditions on an heir’s inheritance.
- A will’s execution must be perfect. Courts will toss out a Florida will if it doesn’t exactly adhere to state law, such as having two witnesses who sign in each other’s presence. An improperly executed DIY will is the biggest heartbreak I see. Rather than having the estate divided according to the person’s wishes, the court invalidates the will and divvies up the assets based on the law for someone dying without a will, which is often markedly different.
Don’t let this happen to you or a loved one. These days, most attorneys charge a reasonable fee for a will, which should also be drafted with other important documents such as a living will and a healthcare proxy.
If you would like to speak with an experienced probate attorney in South Florida, contact the Law Office of Gary Landau for a FREE legal consultation at 954-979-6566 or by email. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls and emails to him.