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  • Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates

The Problem with Internet Wills

Updated: Apr 13

In this age of do it yourself (DIY), many people are making the decision to prepare their will online, based on the pre-designated fields of an Internet form.

At first glance, this may not seem all that complicated. However those who choose not to have an experienced estate planning attorney prepare their will could leave those they love with a mountain of problems. And, after all, isn’t the whole point of a will to make things easy for those you leave behind?

So, while it is certainly possible to type up a set of instructions which dictate how your worldly goods will be distributed after your death using a form on the internet, is it the smart thing to do?

You or your heirs could find your Internet will has all the authority of a grocery list, and could end up in court, spending precious time and money to try and sort things out. That’s because the main problem with an internet will is that it’s missing the one thing you can’t get online – professional counsel from an experienced attorney!

Lack of Proper Execution Can Derail a DIY Will

Perhaps one of the most glaring errors commonly made on DIY wills is a lack of proper execution. Even if no one is stepping up to contest your will, many courts will not validate provisions which are not properly executed (notarization and witnesses).

Further, any provisions you have made in your DIY will that don’t make sense to the court could be negated, and your will could remain in “probate limbo,” for a considerable length of time, rather than your assets helping your loved ones as you intended.

Estate planning experts liken a DIY will to a person who is not a mechanic, tuning up his or her own car—in other words, because of your lack of thorough knowledge regarding your car’s engine, you could end up doing more harm than good.

Below are some of the ways a DIY will can go horribly wrong:

Choosing an executor.

Deciding who you want to be the executor of your will can be complex. That choice could have many adverse consequences if you simply choose someone you care about. It is important to choose an executor who has both a basic knowledge of the law, as well as a certain amount of financial acumen, in addition to someone you trust implicitly.

Making conditions for your heirs.

Perhaps you don’t want your children to inherit until they turn 25 and are more responsible with money. While this sounds easy enough to spell out, you may not have thought of all the potential ramifications.

Assuming your child is 16 when you pass, remember that someone has to be around for nearly a decade to ensure the condition is enforced. This means the Trustee you appointed in your will not only has to be tied to the life you leave behind for a very long time, but also that your estate may need to pay the Trustee fees for all those years.

Conditions must be spelled out with total clarity, and must not be illegal or seem impractical to the court. While you may not know how to accomplish this, that’s when you need a qualified will writing attorney.

Making bequests to your pets.

In the eyes of the law, when you leave money to your pet, you are essentially leaving property to property. You must provide for the care of your pets through a human being, and that caretaker must be left with detailed instructions on how you want the pets taken care of.

Using your will for end-of-life decisions.

Many people are unaware that a will should be a separate document from a living will or an Advance Medical Directive. If you use your will to state that you do not want to be kept on life support, it is unlikely that provision will even be seen until after your death. You need both documents for them to work the way they are meant to work.

Failing to choose a backup guardian for your children.

This is a common mistake made by parents. Lots of time and thought is put into choosing a guardian for their children, not considering what would happen if that person were to become incapacitated or die. Should that happen, the children are essentially left without a guardian, which is one of the main goals of a will.

Lack of coordination in beneficiary designations.

Assume you have a life insurance policy that you have had for decades. At the time you took out that policy, you named your husband as beneficiary. Many years later, you divorce, and in your DIY will you name your son as beneficiary to your life insurance. You might be shocked to know that if you were to die, your ex-husband (and his new wife) would receive your life insurance benefits.

Failing to properly deal with your blended family.

If you have remarried and you have children from a first marriage, children from a second marriage and step-children, unless they all get along famously, you may need to take an inventory of your assets, then make sure your will is perfectly clear about who gets what. Heirs have been known to fight legal battles for years over who gets Grandma’s piano. Even items which have little inherent value, can trigger thousands of dollars in legal fees over the sentimental feelings family members may have about the item.

In the end, the main thing you are lacking in a DIY will is professional, legal advice. While there is certainly no lack of DIY Internet will sites, you simply do not have the benefits you gain when you have an experienced Northern Virginia Trusts and Estates Attorney prepare your will and other estate-planning documents.

In fact, a professionally prepared, well-drafted will or trust is one of the most kind, loving things you can do for the loved ones you leave behind. Your estate attorney will provide the advice and information you need to completely negate any risk involved in protecting your assets.

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