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What Could Go Wrong?

Last issue, we talked about the risks involved in representing oneself in court. This time, we are going to talk about DIY (do-it-yourself) wills.

Look, we don’t live under a rock – we know you have heard a lot about online will services, just writing out your wishes on paper to make them “official,” and even those discs you can order from the well-known investing guru.

But is that what’s right for you? Will that be valid in court? If valid, will the document operate as you had intended?

Ask yourself what kind of legacy you want to leave behind. Is it that you cared enough to leave things in an orderly manner for the people who will be missing you? Or is it that you took a risk on something so important to save a few bucks?

We have been involved in many cases of DIY wills gone wrong we could share with you. One notable example involved a will that was purportedly prepared for a man on his deathbed.

Now, before you jump to conclusions about a deathbed will, keep in mind that an individual may have (and often does have) the legal capacity to execute a will on their deathbed. That is not necessarily improper. The problems came about with the drafting and execution of the will, and the presentation of the will to the court.

According to the witness, the dying man dictated his wishes to his “girlfriend” to write out for him at his bedside, because he did not have the physical strength to write much more than a few words at a time.

The witness claimed that the man read what she had written, and then signed and dated the document. After his death, the “girlfriend” attempted to admit this document to court as the decedent’s will. We represented the man’s children, and were able to successfully block the admission of the will.

Can you determine what went right here and what went wrong? If you are not sure, then we suggest you hire counsel to assist you!

As an aside, lest you think we took advantage of this poor woman and wrested her due inheritance from her, she also accessed the deceased’s bank account that was NOT in her name by using his ATM card after his death, and also improperly transferred his vehicle into her name.

But here is yet another twist in this example: Had the girlfriend been represented by us (or other competent counsel), we believe she could have been successful having that will accepted by the court. It is all about knowing the specific law in this area, and being able to apply it in practice.

We also understand that if you are considering doing a DIY will, that you likely are the kind of person who wants to find ways to spend money wisely, not wastefully.

We get that, we really do!

However, this is one of those cases where you can lose sight of the bigger picture worrying about the cost of good planning. For instance, you could very well set up your DIY will to send your family through the costly and frustrating process of probate court, without realizing it, when you did not even need to.

For a simple probate estate just to transfer a decedent’s home, even when there is family harmony and NO litigation, the costs and fees can easily run $2,000-5,000, not to mention the costs of wasted time, energy, and delay waiting to move forward through each of the steps of probate procedure.

If that does not scream wasteful to you, are we even speaking the same language?!

Finally, as we just mentioned, without proper guidance, you may needlessly send your family through the probate process. If you are considering preparing a DIY will, it may be that you want to avoid the horrors of probate court you have heard about.

However, a will does NOT avoid probate, and may not be exactly what you need. For instance, if you own real estate, bank accounts, investments and/or life insurance, a will is not even the best way to transfer those assets. There are other, better options, that you may not know about or consider without the benefit of legal counsel.

So we ask you, when it comes to something as important as the legacy you leave behind when you are gone, isn’t it worth getting the right advice?

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