The advent of COVID-19 has reshaped much of the lifestyle that we once knew here in America. Church gatherings, going to the store, even shaking hands have gone from being something that we do out of habit to something that we have to think about twice before doing. Whereas we had been going through life without much thought as to our mortal future, this pandemic has forced many of us to think about what would happen if we were to fall prey to this deadly virus and not recover.
Pre-pandemic, you may not have thought it necessary to have a will. Maybe you were young and healthy. Maybe you were just not able to make time for it. Or maybe you had a will made in the past, but the shutdown and threat of illness have caused you to reassess your priorities, which might require updating your will. Have you thought about using an online tool to draft a new will? This seems to be a pretty popular option now. But please don’t go down that road before you understand the inherent dangers of making your will online.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A WILL AND AN ESTATE PLAN
Before diving into the dangers of online wills, it is important to note that there is a difference between a will and an estate plan—and you may need both.
A will is a legally binding document that outlines how you would like your assets distributed after your death. You can also appoint guardians for those under your care in your will so that you can be sure they are well cared for in your absence. In short, a will ensures that the things you own and the people you care for are handled in a way that you see fit rather than leaving it to the probate courts to decide for you.
An estate plan is more comprehensive than a will. It includes your will, and it gives direction regarding additional matters that cannot be handled by a will (even if they are mentioned in a will). An estate plan can include the following items:
- Power of attorney
- Beneficiary designations
- Property transfer
- Transfer of financial assets
While it is a good idea to have an estate plan in place sooner than you need it, it is critical for the good of your family to have your will in place right now.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF ONLINE WILLS?
If you search for “What is a will?” in your favorite search engine, the majority of the first page of results will be online will-drafting services. These websites help you gather the information that you need to make a basic will and help you formulate one at a relatively low cost.
Low cost often means poor quality, at least when it comes to wills When it comes to legal documents that will determine what happens to your assets and dependents after you are no longer here, poor quality isn’t the direction you want to go.
But what would be the problem in using these online templates for making your will?
ONLINE WILLS MIGHT NOT BE LEGALLY BINDING IN YOUR STATE
One of the top dangers with drafting your will online is that the resulting will may not be legally binding in your state. Wills are not federal documents—they are overseen by state courts. In some states, wills that are drawn up and executed online are not valid documents. So despite what you wanted, your assets could end up in state courts getting distributed according to the will of a probate judge rather than your plan. It could also mean that your dependents would be cared for by people you never intended and in ways you would never wish.
WILLS AREN’T ONE SIZE FITS ALL
Wills are complicated. The necessary information required by law varies widely from state to state. For example, some states may recognize oral wills, while others do not. Your state may require two attesting witnesses, while mine may require three or more.
Using an online will generator might seem like filling in simple details to a boilerplate document, but in fact, they are very detailed documents that require a legal expert’s knowhow to execute properly.
VITAL INFORMATION MAY BE MISSING
Important provisions could be left out that would change the way a court would implement your will. If the online tool you are using doesn’t use exactly the right phrasing, then certain parts of the will may be read as invalid by the courts, leading to the undesirable outcomes mentioned above. Without having an experienced professional from your state interviewing you and determining how you want your assets and loved ones handled after your gone, you are putting your loved ones at risk. And that’s a risk that isn’t necessary.
While we here at CRS are CPAs, not estate planning attorneys, we do care about you and your families. We want to see you get this right! We can guide you to a professional estate attorney so you can have the confidence that your will and estate plan are carried out how you want rather than the courts. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. We value you!