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  • Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates

Why DIY Estate Planning is Not a Good Idea

With the weal th of information on the Internet, some people have been led to believe that estate planning is something that they can do themselves. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Even if you own no real property, no personal property of any significant value, have only one small bank account and no minor children, you still should not attempt to handle your own estate planning. Everyone should speak to a knowledgeable estate-planning attorney rather than go the DIY route. Some of the most common errors encountered among those who prepare their own estate planning documents include: a failure to properly sign the will, failure to execute the will in the presence of witnesses, invalid amendments to the will, and having an outdated will at the time of death.

Why Some People Go the DIY Route

A will or living trust are basic, yet crucial, financial planning documents, yet an astonishing number of people don’t have either. As a result, DIY estate planning sites have popped up on the Internet. These numerous DIY sites promise to save you time and money on estate planning. Yet, what many people do not realize is that this comes with a hefty price. Mistakes made by DIY estate planners often lead to controversy and heartache for your heirs, and this can cost considerable more money in the long run.

What Can Go Wrong With DIY Estate Planning?

There is an abundance of things that can go wrong when you decide to do it yourself, all the way from how your estate planning document is worded to an absence of the required formalities regarding signatures and witnesses. Consider the example of Charles Kuralt, CBS news correspondent and anchor. Weeks before Kuralt died in 1997, he wrote a note to his mistress of 29 years, Patricia Shannon, promising to leave her ninety acres and a cabin near a Montana fishing resort. Shannon and Kuralt had spent a considerable amount of time at the cabin during the nearly three decades they were together. After Kuralt died, his wife and children spent six years in court fighting about whether the note was a valid amendment to his 1994 will which had been prepared by an attorney. The Montana courts eventually awarded Shannon the property—leaving Kuralt’s family to pay the estate taxes. All of which could have been avoided if the desired changes had been handled by an estate planning attorney.

Is a DIY Will Better Than No Will at All?

Those who believe in the do-it-yourself route argue that having a self-prepared will is better than no will at all, however this is only partially true. If you happen to make serious mistakes in your DIY will, then the rules of intestacy will apply, and it will be as though there were no will at all—or worse. Consider these serious blunders made by some DIY-ers. One person left blank the space that said “insert name here,” which left $200,000 for the state to deal with rather than to the desired beneficiary. Another made a typo which turned $20,000 left to a sister into $200,000. Years and significant lawyer fees were spent sorting that one out. Your Virginia estate planning attorney can also flag issues unique to the state of Virginia.

Could Your Will Be Contested?

Ask yourself whether you really want your will contested and for your loved ones to spend years fighting in court because your wishes were not clear. Those who contest a will may argue undue influence, fraud, lack of capacity or improper execution. Undue influence occurs when the person making the will was pressured by someone to change the will in a way that is beneficial to the person doing the pressuring. Fraud can occur when the person who signs the will was tricked into doing so—perhaps by being told it was a different type of document. If your will is not properly drawn up or executed under the laws of the state of Virginia, the entire thing could be thrown out, essentially leaving the state in charge of distributing your assets. Finally, if a person contesting your will can prove you were not mentally capable at the time the will was drawn up, the will could be declared invalid.

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