Last fall, the New York Times published an interesting article. The author of the article drafted her will four different times, using four different online will-making programs. Then, she had those wills reviewed by an experienced estate planning attorney.
A “Simple” Will May Not Be So Simple
What the author found out is that even making a “simple” will can be deceptively complicated. It was only after drafting all four wills and consulting with a lawyer that she understood how the wording of a will, the way in which you own your property, and laws that you might not even be aware of can all work together to turn your will into a document that does not function the way you though it would.
For example, an important step in planning your estate is to understand what property you own, and how it’s titled. Why is this so important? Because not all property is controlled by your will. Depending on how you own your home, it might not be subject to the terms of your will, and assets like life insurance and retirement accounts are controlled by their beneficiary designations, regardless of what your will says. It’s hard for a computer program to coach you through the process of taking an inventory of your assets, evaluating how they’re titled, and then deciding how all your assets should work together with the terms of your will to accomplish your estate planning goals.
Do You Know Which Questions to Ask Yourself?
Depending on your personal circumstances, there can be a number of other vitally important issues that aren’t readily apparent to you as you draft a “simple” will. For example, if you have a blended family, what steps can you take to make sure both your current spouse and your biological kids are adequately provided for (and that no one is unintentionally disinherited)? Or, how can you leave assets to young children without triggering the need for a court-appointed conservator for those funds? Or, are you sure that your will is self-proving, meaning that it meets all the requirements for being immediately admitted to probate upon your death, so that the people who witnessed your will don’t have to come to court and verify its authenticity?
When a qualified estate planning lawyer helps you plan your estate, he or she uses her knowledge and experience to make sure to find the answers to questions you may not even know to ask. This goes a long way toward ensuring that your estate plan actually does what you intend it to do.