Is a do-it-yourself will better than no will at all? Maybe not

This article looks at whether do-it-yourself will kits provide adequate protection for one’s estate.

A will is, perhaps, the single most important document in an estate plan and allows the will-maker to designate who receives what from his or her estate. Shockingly, however, as Time magazine reports, about two-thirds of all Americans don't have a will. Without a will in place, an estate is distributed according to state guidelines, which may not be in accordance with the deceased's actual wishes. One solution that many people have relied on in recent years is a do-it-yourself will kit. While DIY wills are seen as a cheap alternative to going to an estate planning attorney, it is important to be aware that such wills come with some very extreme risks.

Estate planning is complex

While a DIY will may be sufficient for a simple estate that has few assets, it is important to remember that estate planning is usually far more complex than DIY will kits make it seem. For one, not every asset is covered by a will. As MarketWatch points out, beneficiary designations for life insurance policies and 401(k)s, for example, may take precedence over who is designated as a beneficiary in a will. An estate planning attorney can alert clients to what is and isn't covered by a will, whereas a will kit probably won't point out these major areas of concern.

State laws differ

Another big problem with DIY will kits is that they often apply a "one-size-fits-all" approach to wills when, in fact, laws governing wills vary greatly from state to state. One DIY will kit may have been formatted with California state laws in mind, thus making it unsuitable for those living in Massachusetts or elsewhere. Differences in state laws can be minute, but they could ultimately lead to problems when it comes to enforcing the will. For example, as Time points out, while typed wills require two witnesses in order to be valid in every state, about half of states will still accept a handwritten will without any witnesses as being valid.

Inviting legal challenges

An estate planning attorney is trained to help clients avoid legal issues with their wills. A DIY will kit is simply likelier to fall prey to a legal challenge, since the person writing the will likely will not have had the training and experience needed to know how to avoid legal problems. Even tiny errors could open up a will to a legal challenge. That means that the bit of money saved by using a will kit today could turn into a messy and expensive court case for one's heirs in the future.

Estate planning help

Estate planning is not a topic that should be left to chance. An estate planning attorney can help clients with ensuring that their estate plan is comprehensive, effective, and best sets up their loved ones for success in the future.