From time to time, I have conservations with people who are under the impression that a Will is a simple legal document and the services of an estate planning attorney are not necessary to create a Will. When I inquire about the motivation to use a do-it-yourself approach to a Will, cost is almost always the reason provided. This is a very dangerous approach for two reasons:
- Wills are more complicated than most people realize. Mistakes made in creating a Will do not come to light until the testator (person writing the Will) has died. Obviously at that point, there is no way to ensure the testator's original wishes are implemented.
- Creating a Will is not expensive. In fact, when most ask me about the cost to create a Will they often comment how affordable it really is.
Not long ago, someone asked me about creating a codicil to modify an existing Will. I was impressed this person clearly either had done a lot of research on creating a Will or received partial information either from the Internet, a friend or perhaps a D-I-Y kit. A codicil is a document that’s added to an existing, signed will, to change it or add new provisions to it. The word codicil has been around since the 1400s. Back in those days, a codicil was an effective way to change a Will. In the modern world, most wills are created electronically, so it's often easier -- and clearer -- to make a new will. This is a perfect example of how a little information may do more harm than good. An experienced estate planning attorney would never recommend a codicil as it can easily lead to confusion of your intended wishes.
Many people do not realize there are specific requirements in the State of Missouri for a Will to be valid. For example, a Will must be written. Verbally information your heirs or a close family member of your wishes will not hold up in court. A Will must be signed and witnessed by two competent witnesses. Many people don't realize that the choice of a witness could potentially change your wishes in an otherwise valid Will. For example, if a witness is an "interested witness" - meaning he or she has a vested interest in the Will - he or she may not get the division of assets as you intended. If an interested witness has a claim in the estate that is more than if the testator died without a Will, the interested witness forfeits the stated amount in the Will.
As you can see from just these two examples, there is a lot of misinformation out there that can potentially prevent your wishes from being implemented. There are many nuances to the law surrounding Wills, Trusts, Healthcare Directives and Estate Planning strategies. An experienced estate planning attorney can ensure your wishes and interests are protected and carried out as you intended. Creating a Do-It-Yourself Will is a risky proposition at best. I encourage you to call me and learn how affordable a Will or more comprehensive estate plan can be. Schedule an appointment online or call me at 314-727-0163.