Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can a DIY Will cost you a bundle?

In this age where all the information you ever wanted can be found on the internet, it is no surprise to encounter articles like the one in Forbes magazine raising concerns for those who save now on a Do-It-Yourself Will only to leave an expensive nightmare for their heirs.  I enjoyed this brief commentary by my WealthCounsel associate, Suzann Beckett.  I hope you also enjoy it.


Punctuation is important. For instance, consider the difference between a period and a comma. Sure you might think of one as a point of ink, as opposed to a point of ink with a tail. But if you misplace that comma and insert a period instead – that little error of grammar could just cost your heirs a legal tussle like you never dreamed was possible.

It's true. I swear.

Then again, filling in the blanks can be a nightmare in disguise, too. Imagine using a DIY Will package that innocently asks you to, “Insert Name Here.” No problem, right? Well, no problem unless you attach a dollar figure to that line, and fail to include a name. You might just inadvertently have directed a substantial sum of money to, “Insert Name Here,” whomever that might be. If nobody catches the error, your heirs just might be stuck with a battle royal over what you meant to write, as opposed to what your Will actually says.

Deborah L. Jacobs outlines these two disasters of DIY estate planning, as well as some notable others, in an intriguing column featured on You can find the full Forbes story here.

Jacobs makes some excellent points about the importance of taking estate planning seriously, whether you are wealthy or not, famous or anonymous, a DuPont or a Miller. We all suffer the same tendency to put off the inevitable – sometimes until the inevitable beats us to the punch.

Anyone who even dreams that estate planning doesn't matter should read Jacobs excellent article if for no other reason than to understand better how a rancher could have lost $3.5 million in estate taxes, as a result of an effort to economize on the cost of having a will drawn up. You may also be entertained, or horrified by the story of how a simple note from the late CBS reporter, Charles Kuralt, could have led to a legal battle that lasted 6 years.

It's a subjective question, to be sure. But it's one worth asking ourselves. Where is the real savings found, up front in the estate planning phase of life, or possibly later, assuming no legal wrangling results from using DIY legal forms and software packages?

The author of the Forbes article on DIY Wills is a lawyer who took a turn to writing and journalism.  The Forbes article is likely a precursor to her new book that is being released soon.  There are many horror stories of people who took a shortcut in their estate planning.  Rather than dwell on these wills gone bad, I’d rather talk about the wills done well where I assisted people to truly plan their estates in a way that met their objectives.  Call me if I can help you in pursuit of your estate planning objectives.

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