Pitfalls of Online Will Creation Programs

It is tempting to use an online will creation program for creating your Last Will and Testament.  There are a few programs out there and they will tell you that the Last Will and Testament created is as good as one written by an attorney and for a much cheaper price.  However, the quality of the Last Will and Testament created through those programs is, more likely than not, insufficient. Some of the benefits of working with an attorney are as follows:

Knowledge:  One of the benefits on working with an attorney to create your Last Will and Testament is that you gain access to the attorney’s knowledge.  Her knowledge of the local law, the politics of the court, and her experience and expertise.  This knowledge helps you understand how the laws and cases will interpret your words once you are gone.  Without this, the intent behind your words may be lost and in the end not followed.  The online programs do not provide you with this kind of knowledge.  They provide a generic understanding at best.

Validity:  Working with an attorney will help ensure that your Last Will and Testament is executed correctly so that it is valid.  An incorrectly executed Last Will and Testament is not valid and regardless of your wishes, the court will not honor it at time of its submission to probate.  An online program will not ensure that you correctly execute your will.

Records:  Attorneys will keep your original Last Will and Testament in some cases or return it to you for safekeeping.  If the original is returned to you for safekeeping, the attorney will keep a copy of it.  If the original Last Will and Testament is lost, then the attorney’s copy will become very important at probate or if you want to see what the Last Will and Testament says.  Additionally, if the Last Will and Testament is contested the records kept about your conversations with the attorney, capacity, and why you made the decisions is important.  There are specific situations like disinheritance that really need attorney knowledge and documentation.  The online programs do not keep these kind of records.

Complicated Estates:  Most people think that their estate is not complicated; however, most actually are.  Your estate is complicated if you(r)

  • have children that are not the children of your spouse,
  • spouse has children that are not your children,
  • want to define “child” as more than the traditional definition of “child”,
  • have assets with transfer on death or payable on death designations,
  • have minor children or beneficiaries,
  • have special needs children or beneficiaries,
  • have or want a trust,
  • estate is large enough that tax planning should occur (in Oregon that is only $1 Million),
  • own a small business,
  • are divorced, or
  • have very specific or extensive plans for property or money to be inherited.

If your situation does not fall within one of the ones listed above, that does not mean it is not complicated.  A Last Will and Testament is an extremely important document and you want to get it right.  Consulting with an attorney and making sure it adequately represents your goals is priceless.

Modifications:  A Last Will and Testament only represents your wishes at the time it is drafted.  It does not usually have provisions for what happens after you draft it.  Therefore, if your situation changes, like you have a child, get married, get divorced, open a small business, inherit property/money from someone, a beneficiary or person appointed to be a representative predeceases you, or your financial situation changes, you need to revisit your will.  Some modifications can be made with a codicil.  Sometimes a new Last Will and Testament needs to be completed.  Modifications on the document itself can result in unexpected results and should not be done unless the results are explained to you by an attorney.

Cost:  While choosing to use an online will creation program might seem like a cost effective way to create your Last Will and Testament, it is not a good idea in the vast majority of situations.  Nothing supplants the value an attorney adds to the process.  The old adage stands – You get what you pay for.  Creating a Last Will and Testament that does not accurately represent your goals is actually more costly in the end because either you will have to pay an attorney to redraft your Last Will and Testament or your personal representative will have to deal with the results after you have passed away which could lead to cumbersome and expensive litigation.  The matters dealt with in a Last Will and Testament are too important to leave to an impersonal online will creation program.

If you are looking to create your estate plan, please give me a call.  I would love to help you navigate these choices with you so that you have an estate plan that accomplishes your goals.

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