“What Do You Miss Out on With a DIY Will?” by Attorney Alex Pagnotta (Audio)
If you make a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) estate plan, you miss out on many important things including:
- Legal advice on whether your estate plan is valid or not. State laws can differ so you need to make certain you follow Maryland rules. Buying a DIY will kit online or otherwise trying to make a DIY estate plan is not necessarily going to ensure your documents are valid, since you may not know all of the laws in Maryland. There are also execution and witness requirements, which may be hard to obtain if you only have a DIY will kit.
- Advice on other aspects of estate planning. Making an estate plan is not just about a will. You may also need to do other things, like creating a power of attorney in case of incapacity or Medicaid planning to protect assets so you don’t spend down your wealth if you need to go into a nursing home.
- Information on estate taxes. A death can sometimes trigger estate tax which can affect your ability to leave a legacy. An experienced attorney can help you to evaluate whether estate taxes are an issue in your situation. If so, your attorney can help explore ways to avoid tax assessment on the wealth you leave to your loved ones when you pass away.
- Details on the implications of your estate plan. Leaving assets to your loved ones in a DIY will can have important implications of which you may be unaware. For example, if you were to leave money to a relative with a disability, you could cause a loss of access to government benefits. You wouldn’t necessarily know this if you were not guided by an estate planning attorney who could explain the potential consequences of each decision you make.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the possible downsides to making a DIY estate plan. In addition to missing out on the sound legal advice that you need to make a solid estate plan, you also take the risk that your wishes will not be respected on end-of-life issues or transfer of assets after death. If your estate planning tools aren’t enforceable because you did not follow the proper processes for creating these essential legal documents, default rules will apply.
In this instance, under the default rules, your estate will be distributed according to intestacy law. If you become incapacitated, the court will consider Maryland laws on guardianship to determine who to appoint as guardian if you need one. You will have lost any sense of autonomy and all control over your future and will simply be left with Maryland laws dictating what happens to you, your assets, and the people you love.
If you do have a valid estate plan, how should you update it?
- DO NOT write on or scratch things out of your original documents. This can create unnecessary confusion and other problems when it comes to administering the estate.
- If things change and you need to make a change to your Will or Trust, it is advisable to create a codicil or amendment. A codicil or amendment changes the document to reflect the updates that you want.
- A DIY codicil or amendment that is not executed properly may not be valid. A codicil or amendment that is not valid can cause additional confusion and uncertainty for your loved ones. Therefore, it is a good idea to contact Sinclair Prosser Gasior to help make the changes to your documents to provide peace of mind for you and clear direction for your loved ones.
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