We have all seen the ads online for free or inexpensive estate planning. It may be tempting to visit a website, answer a few questions, and get back a will or maybe even a trust created by a drag-and-drop template. It is certainly convenient, but are these cheap tools effective? In this blog post, we will look at some of the problems that can pop up with DIY estate planning.
Properly Endorsed with Witnesses
To be valid, a Texas will must be in writing, signed by the testator in person, and properly witnessed. This means a will must be attested to by at least two credible witnesses who are 14 years of age or older. See Tex. Est. Code § 251.051 (2017). They must sign the will in the presence of the testator.
The only exception to Texas’s signature and witness requirements is a holographic will. A holographic will does not have to be signed and witnessed, but it must be written entirely in the testator’s handwriting. See Tex. Est. Code §251.052 (2017). An online DIY form typically does not meet the requirements of a holographic will, and if you improperly sign and witness the document, it will not be valid under Texas law.
Explaining Your Intent
Your will or estate plan’s significant purpose should be to explain how you intend to distribute your estate. Consider what can happen with a seemingly simple DIY will, for example: A woman wants to split her estate between her two children, but because her home and investment accounts are worth about the same amount of money, she bequeaths her home to her son and her investment account to her daughter.
Five years later, after increasingly large medical bills, the woman has nearly depleted her investment accounts. When she dies, her son gets the house, and her daughter gets what is left of her accounts. Her “simple” will did not correctly express her intentions for her estate. An experienced estate planning attorney does not just draft documents. Most have extensive experience in counseling clients through very personal decisions. An elder law attorney can consider developments that you have not, ensuring that your estate plan reflects your intentions under many scenarios.
Moreover, if a family member challenges the will, the estate will look to divine your intentions. While family members, who may also benefit from a specific interpretation of your will, can share their conversations with you and what they believe your intent may be, an attorney has no stake in the outcome. A court is more likely to take the word of an attorney that worked closely with you to determine your intent.
Using Precise Language
When you use DIY or online estate planning tools, you can also run the risk of using language that a court cannot enforce. Your will must clearly state the testamentary intent to dispose of assets. Even using language such as, “I would like Harry to have my house,” can render a disposition unenforceable.
An experienced estate planning and elder law attorney can also advise you on your estate disposition’s tax consequences and help coordinate both probate and non-probate assets. If you are beginning the estate planning process or are needing to update your plans, Hegwood Law Group offers comprehensive estate planning services to give you peace of mind. Call us at (281) 885-8826, or click here to schedule your strategy session.