What if you didn’t have to meet with an attorney to prepare your estate plan? What if you could pay a few dollars, fill out a few forms online, and download a comprehensive estate plan all before you finished your morning coffee? With the introduction of the online will, this fantasy became a reality.
Well, sort of.
While online wills are cheap and easy, they aren’t always right for everyone — especially people with complex assets and families to protect. They are designed to work for everyone, and this means that they don’t always work to meet everyone’s unique personal needs. Preparing an estate plan is an inherently personal process that often requires careful consideration of a variety of different issues, and a “form” will cannot always address all of the intangible factors that go into protecting yourself and your loved ones for decades to come.
The 8 Most Common Mistakes to Look Out For
To illustrate the point, here are eight issues that can lead to undesirable – and potentially costly – consequences when you prepare an online will:
1. Only preparing a will
While a will is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan, it is just that – a component. Even simple estate plans should incorporate a handful of other documents (such as living wills and powers of attorney), and many people will benefit from establishing a revocable living trust to keep their estate out of probate.
2. Not addressing your will’s impact on other documents
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3. Omitting certain assets
If you leave certain assets out of your will, these assets will be distributed according to your state’s intestate succession laws. These laws specify which family members should receive what percentage of your estate, but they do not address the ultimate question, “Who gets what?”
4. Not planning for assets you will acquire in the future
If you only plan for the present, any assets you acquire in the future will be left out of your estate plan and subject to the laws of intestate succession.
5. Failing to address issues besides asset distribution
Distributing your assets at death is just one of several reasons to have an estate plan. Who will care for your children? Who will manage your children’s finances? Who will manage your finances if you become incapacitated? These are just a few of the “other” issues your estate plan should cover as well.
6. Failing to name contingent beneficiaries and personal representatives
What if one of your beneficiaries dies before you do? What if your personal representative isn’t available to administer your estate? Failing to name contingent beneficiaries and personal representatives is one of the most common estate planning mistakes.
7. Assuming “standard” provisions will serve your final wishes
While you have the opportunity to insert a few specifics into your estate plan, online wills
8. Not complying with state law
Finally, each state has its own estate planning laws; and, in order to be legally enforceable, your will must comply with the applicable statutory requirements. If your will isn’t enforceable, it won’t matter how much time you’ve spent (or how much money you saved) preparing it online.
Avoiding Costly Mistakes with Online Wills
You can avoid these issues if you work with an experienced estate planning attorney. At a minimum, you should ask an attorney to review the document you have prepared online to make sure it doesn’t raise any red flags. However, preparing a comprehensive estate plan is not as difficult, time-consuming, or expensive as most people think.
So, when is it OK to use online will services?
Assuming you take your time and conduct research on your state’s estate planning laws, having an online will is better than having no estate plan at all. While it’s highly recommended that an attorney prepare or review your estate planning documents, we recognize there are situations in which individuals may not be able to afford the services of an attorney, or it may not make sense economically.
Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom are two online services that can be useful in online will preparation. If you decide to create an online will, you should proceed with caution and take care to avoid the eight aforementioned mistakes. A well-prepared will can give you and your loved
About The Author
Kristin Dzialo an estate planning attorney based out of Cambridge, MA. She has been helping individuals create legacy plans for years. Kristin is a partner in the life and legacy planning law firm, Eckert Byrne LLC, where she takes great pride in creating comprehensive estate plans that encompass more than just the transfer of tangible assets.