These days, just about anything has a do-it-yourself version online. In some cases, such advice is helpful and can save people money and time. But when it comes to most legal situations, including wills and all forms of estate planning, trying to cut corners may have disastrous consequences.
Common Mistakes in Do-it-Yourself Wills
We create wills to ensure that our wishes are carried out if we die. This is one of the reasons why a will should never be created without the help of an experienced estate planning attorney; if you are dead, you will be unable to address any unforeseen problems that an improperly drafted will may cause. Below are some of the most common mistakes seen in do-it-yourself wills.
Failure to Consider Taxes and Other Legal Issues
A will does more than just name who gets the house and who will take care of young children if both parents die. A properly drafted will should also address taxes, payment of debts, dispositions of the estate, and meet probate requirements.
In recent years, estate taxes have changed dramatically. An experienced NYC estate planning attorney can help to ensure that your will is created, and updated, to make use of all potential tax savings.
Using Terminology Loosely
When creating a will on one’s own, it is extremely common to use incorrect terminology, some of which may lead to questions about the individual’s actual intent to distribute assets. The language must be very specific; simply stating your general wishes is not enough and can be dangerously ambiguous.
By drafting your own will, you run the risk of using terminology or language that is misinterpreted, or that voids the entire document. And if these mistakes arise, how will you defend your position after your death? When disputes do occur, the court will want to hear from someone who had conversations with you about these matters, but who will not benefit from your will, such as an estate planning attorney.
Including Things You Don’t Own
When it comes to wills, assets are considered either probate or non-probate. A probate asset is something you own in your name alone. Joint accounts are non-probate assets. A will only governs probate assets, but for most people, many if not all of their assets fall under the non-probate category. An estate planning attorney can help you determine if you actually have the authority to dispose of the assets in your will.
Choosing the Wrong Personal Representative
When you die, the person you named as executor of your will is responsible for ensuring that your debts are paid and assets are distributed according to your wishes. Upon your death, the executor, also known as your personal representative, is supposed to file the will in court, thus beginning the probate process. But what if you created your will years ago and the executor died before you? Or maybe you’ve lost touch with the executor and he/she decides they no longer want the job.
The unfortunate reality is, your personal representative does not need to serve as executor if he/she chooses not to. As such, it is imperative that you choose the right person, and make sure that your chosen executor is still current if years have gone by since creating your will.
Contact Lissner & Lissner LLP Today
It is also a common mistake of do-it-yourself wills for the individual to stop with the will. Your will is only one small piece of the estate plan. As important as it is, a will cannot perform all functions of the estate planning process. Don’t attempt to go through this complex process alone. Contact Lissner & Lissner LLP Today at (212) 307-1499 for a confidential consultation about your case.