Ask Jesse: Are there risks involved in using an online site to create your own Last Will & Testament?
Hi, Jesse! I know you are an attorney and you guys are fans of Dave Ramsey. I saw Dave Ramsey’s website has a link for a recommended site for doing your own Last Will & Testament. I would appreciate your opinion on how to go about setting up a will, including guardianship/trustee for children.
I have heard attorneys say those online ones can have inaccuracies which would make the whole document void. I definitely need some guidance in this and I don’t want to go cheap just to save money on something so important. The one attorney I asked for a price said it would cost $900-$1000 to set this up and that sounded like a lot! Thank you! -Beth
Whether someone can or should do their own will with a kit or with a discount online company is one of the questions I get most often. And you touch on one of the main reasons that I discourage it generally: the possibility of mistake.
Every estate is different. In addition, every state is different. As such, it is my opinion that if someone is looking at getting a will or estate plan done, they should at the very least talk to a qualified professional who can offer help or some sort of direction.
For some background, Last Wills and Testaments have been around for hundreds of years for devising property to subsequent generations. Generally, it was a matter of common law, or tradition, as to what laws applied and what didn’t.
As we developed as a country, the various states developed its own laws pertaining to land and property within its own state and what constituted the proper documentation to make the transfers. In Kansas, for instance, anyone making a will must have it witnessed by two people and must attest to it, stating before a notary that the will expresses their desires. If it is handwritten and notarized, it is improper and will be invalidated.
Each state is different. There are some states where these handwritten wills (called “holographic”) are fine and will be honored. This said, many of the kits and discount websites are geared toward specific states and, at the very least, should meet the minimums necessary to be valid.
This, though, brings me to my second objection: lack of personal attention. Everyone has individual needs and circumstances for planning and goals and just filling in blanks on a website or on a form is very impersonal and consultation with a legal professional that is knowledgeable in this area may highlight issues not addressed by these kits and sites.
It seems Congress is constantly changing the estate tax threshold, which no doubt is good for business for the high-end estate planners. Nonetheless, it is my opinion that everyone needs to know exactly what they have and exactly where they want it to go and choose whatever route is best for you and your family. I will caution that you to be careful not to get overcharged or up-sold for these services, though, and shop around.
Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.
The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.
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