Spooky stories in the spirit of Halloween: this blog comes across your feed as a warning not to do what other clients have done and that is your own estate planning! Beware of quick forms and websites such as LegalZoom. Over the past year, our firm has represented clients in actions where either the decedents drafted their own will or a will was taken from an internet website with the belief (and sometimes confirmation from the site) that the documents will be upheld in court. This has left clients in challenging and depressing situations.
Please do not believe these companies when they tell you that the form they are providing to you meets all legal requirements. There is more to creating valid documents than just the documents themselves. For example, interested persons cannot serve as witnesses or the notary. Just because the witness’s name is not on the will does not make them disinterested, i.e. a spouse to a witness still stands to benefit from their spouse’s inheritance, which makes them interested. Sometimes it is hard to determine who is interested and not. Helping a loved one prepare their will (even if it is just inputting the information into a legal form) will also create grounds to invalidate the document.
Especially if you are crafting estate-planning documents that disinherit children or heirs, it is imperative to use a lawyer that can draft the documents to clearly express your intent and avoid challenge by those disinherited. Disgruntled heirs often look for ways to challenge the will and homemade or printable forms create a lot more opportunities for challenge.
Estate planning documents are not cheap, but neither is litigation. To create a will costs ~$600-$1,500 depending on its complexity. However, litigation will cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus, if a lawyer constructs the will and uses office staff as witnesses, there are witnesses and an attorney who are truly disinterested to testify as to the parameters of the execution of the documents. Such parameters include whether the person had capacity at the time the documents were signed or whether the person was subject to undue influence or was acting under their own free will.
Do not be haunted by your decision not to use a lawyer to prepare your estate plans. An estate-planning attorney is a state bar certified attorney that has been educated in the laws of the state and knows what the courts require. Hiring an attorney to handle your estate planning minimizes the risk of litigation surrounding those documents and reduces the likelihood that the court will invalidate the document. Do not leave your heirs exposed to senseless litigation and hire an attorney for your estate plans!