There have been many reports of unintended consequences related to the use of online wills over the past few years. In fact, I have written about many of these issues on this blog.
It is important for individuals to understand that there is a difference between a document and a plan. While both contain words it is the way those words are used that determines the difference. Many Internet forms are generic and may not allow the permit the person named to manage the assets the powers necessary to properly manage or protect the assets. For example, in order to sell the testator’s property, the executor may have to obtain the court’s permission, and consent of the beneficiaries. This can create additional costs and delays in the distribution of the assets.
This can be important when dealing with a homestead where the asset is not typically subject to probate. If the homestead is owned by a trust and the house needs to be sold, the trustee can determine if a distribution or sale of the asset is best. When an individual does not have a will or creates an online will, the home is typically not subject to probate and will pass outside of probate. This can cause problems including delays and thousands of dollars in additional costs when some of the beneficiaries want to sell the home, and others do not.
While an online will may include a residuary clause (an allowance for anything not expressly mentioned in the will), it may not be sufficient for every circumstance. I have seen wills that were created without the help of an estate planning attorney which completely left out the residuary clause and cause undesired results. In one case, one child was intended to be disinherited, but because there was no residuary clause, they ended being entitled to 1/2 of the estate. (This was only resolved after many years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees)
Additionally, online wills may not provide for any children born after the will is made. Failing to amend or rewrite the will may exclude a child altogether or may include one when no intent to do so would have been expressed.
While some do-it-yourself wills may be inexpensive and easy to complete they often are modified in such a way that they no longer accomplish the desired results.
A will can be a relatively inexpensive document to have prepared by an attorney when compared to the damage and costs that can result from an improperly drafted document.
It is important to remember that a document is not a plan. Often while meeting with clients, we discover that traditional documents will expose the families assets to unnecessary claims of creditors and to pay for long-term care costs when those assets could have been protected.
For a free comprehensive review of your situation, risks, and potential solutions, you should contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer by filling out the contact us form or calling (904) 685-1200