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What can go wrong with a do-it-yourself will?

With the advent of the internet there has been a plethora of do-it-yourself websites that portend to teach people how to do everything from fix a washing machine to a do-it-yourself will. But there are limits these websites may or may not disclose in the process, especially when it comes to estate planning and the proper preparation of an executable will. Each state has its own rules when it comes to wills and probate law, and according to one estate planning attorney in Irvine, California, the DIY online legal software is simply inadequate for the needs of most consumers.

Even in cases when a will is not contested, the court must follow the law. Many courts will not validate the will or provisions in the will if it is not properly executed with the required notarization and number of witnesses. Some states will recognize an oral will, whereas others will not. Some states require a will to be signed by two disinterested parties at the end of the will, other states require three signatures. And if there are mistakes made, it is possible survivors and intended beneficiaries will end up in an expensive court battle contesting the will.

There are a number of things that can go wrong with a do-it-yourself will, including naming an executor. It is important to not only choose someone you trust to follow through on your wishes but someone who also has the financial acumen or understanding of the law to ensure its proper execution. It is also important not to name your pet as a beneficiary, but instead name a caretaker for the pet. And putting conditions in a will regarding beneficiaries can lead to complications in court as well.

Unless a condition is clearly stipulated and defined it may not be enforceable. For example, stating someone is not to receive an inheritance until a certain age or condition is met requires someone else to stick around and be an executor which may require additional fees well into the future if the condition is a long ways off. Also, specify end of life decisions in a living will, not your general will which is unlikely to be read until after you die.

Then there is the issue of coordinating beneficiaries named in the will with those listed on life insurance, retirement and others savings accounts and financial assets. And when considering naming guardians for children and dealing with blended families, things can get complicated quickly unless they are clearly and strictly defined. And even the DIY legal websites stipulate the necessity of having an attorney review any estate planning documents to ensure they are legally binding and can be properly executed in your state.

Source: CNBC, "Where You Can Go Wrong With a Do-It-Yourself Will," Jan. 17, 2013

Our California law office helps families and individuals with a wide range of estate planning and probate services, including wills, trust and Medi-Cal planning.

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