10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t D.I.Y. Your Will

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t D.I.Y. Your Will

Generally, I’m all about DIY. Not only do I enjoy creating something, but it usually saves me money. However, as much as I love it, there are certain things where DIY isn’t always best.

Today, there are several do-it-yourself legal service providers out there, including the most well-known, LegalZoom. While the concept is noble, there’s a reason lawyers are still in business drafting wills. Below are 10 reasons why you should reconsider writing your will using one of those do-it-yourself services.

  1. One Size Does Not Fit All – DIY legal service providers create one template to be used by everybody. But everybody’s situation is not the same. In fact, there are often no two situations that are even alike. So to use one template to address each person’s estate is not a recipe for success. Instead, it’s better to speak with an attorney who can understand your unique situation and create a will that reflects your specific needs.
  2. The Law Changes –  The law is a moveable beast. In LegalZoom’s own disclaimer, they specifically acknowledge this constant change. Despite this recognition, LegalZoom does not guarantee their forms use current law, stating, “Because the law changes rapidly, is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and is also subject to varying interpretations by different courts and certain government and administrative bodies, LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all the information on the site is completely current.” Due to this inherent fluidity, using an attorney not only ensures that your will is drafted according to the law but also that when the law does change, you’ll be notified to update your will accordingly.
  3. Proof Reading Isn’t Just About Commas – In LegalZoom’s own video tutorial, they show that “eighty percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly.” 80 percent! And while they explain that their “document service also includes a review of your answers for completeness, spelling and grammar,” they specify that “[a]t no time do we review your answers for legal sufficiency.” While it’s prudent to ensure the spelling in your will is correct, without writing a will that meets your state’s legal requirements means your perfectly punctuated will may be held invalid by a court, even if your family agrees with every single word of it. Using an attorney will ensure your will is not only grammatically correct, but more importantly, follows the law so that the court will recognize and follow it.
  4. A Simple Mistake Can End Up Costing Thousands – DIY legal service sites make creating a will sound very simple. And while it certainly does not need to be complicated, there are many scenarios to account for when drafting. In a review of wills created through LegalZoom, attorneys found mistakes that could end up costing the drafter’s family thousands of dollars in legal fees down the road. One example was failing to address the contingency scenario of the death of a child or the birth or adoption of another child. The mistakes found were not blatant or even easy to spot by an untrained eye. But without the expertise of an attorney, DIY will drafters may unknowingly create an unfavorable situation for their families.
  5. It’s Not One and Done – At the bottom of their disclaimer page, LegalZoom includes an ad depicting a young family and the headline “Your Last Will”. As nice as the idea is that you create one will and you’re done, it’s not realistic – or very smart. Things change over time. Your family grows. Your assets increase. You change your mind. Even old age doesn’t make you immune. Remember the Alanis Morissette song? “An old man turn 98. He won the lottery and died the next day.” Without updating his will, that old man likely just gave a nice windfall to the person named to receive the residuary of his estate. Legal DIY sites do not provide an easy way to make updates as time goes by. In contrast, working with an attorney makes updating much easier. Instead of having to recreate your entire will using the DIY service, your attorney can quickly make the change, potentially without even requiring an entirely new will.
  6. No Talk of Uncle Sam – One of the ripple effects that comes from distributing property by a will is potential tax liability. DIY legal services like LegalZoom don’t take this important factor into account nor do they alert you to any potential issues. There are many factors to consider in creating a will that go beyond the decision of where your stuff should go. (See #8) Without considering potential tax consequences, you are doing yourself and your family a disservice. When you work with an attorney to draft your will, the tax factor is just one of the factors contemplated to ensure your direction is followed.
  7. It’s Not Black and White – In addition to constantly changeable, the law is also not black and white. There can be wide space between the black letter text. Without the guidance of an attorney, a simple statement in your will could be interpreted in a way you did not intend. Or, worse, it could entirely invalidate the will, forcing the court to throw it out. Using an attorney to draft your will can help you navigate those in-between spaces.
  8. There’s More to it than Saying Who Gets What – Administering an estate isn’t just about following a will. In most states, there are other laws that give certain people rights when someone passes away. DIY legal services don’t take into account these outside factors that directly effect how your estate will be distributed. For example, in Colorado a surviving spouse is entitled to an elective share of the deceased spouse’s estate, notwithstanding what the will says. Without taking these factors into consideration, someone you want to inherit from your estate may be kept out. In working with an attorney, all factors are considered and can help ensure that everyone you want to receive actually does.
  9. You’re On Your Own – When using a DIY legal service to draft your will, there’s no one to talk to. As LegalZoom says, it does not provide legal advice. No one is there to ask, “What do you think?” When drafting a will, you have to make several decisions, and sometimes those decisions aren’t easy. It’s helpful to have someone you can bounce ideas off of in the privacy of a confidential relationship. Additionally, an attorney can also help you understand the consequences of your decisions. Without knowing it, a clause you include in your DIY will could potentially disinherit one of your children. Working with an attorney can help you not only make the right decision for you and your estate but also avoid undesired consequences.
  10. And You’re Flying Without a Net – Despite admitting that their document preparation services are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney, LegalZoom’s business is to convince you that the advice of an attorney is simply not necessary. But what happens if you believe them, create a will, and find out the form they provided wasn’t using the correct law (see #2)? What’s your recourse? According to LegalZoom, don’t call them. At the very bottom of their disclaimer, they state they are “not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage related to your use of this site.” Summing it up, they say, “In short, your use of the site is at your own risk.” Instead of being left without a safety net, drafting a will with the assistance of an attorney gives you and your family someone to turn to if things don’t go as planned.

In the end, the old adage is appropriate even for will drafting: you get what you pay for. Going DIY here is not in your best interest. That doesn’t mean, however, that working with an attorney to draft your will has to be expensive. Many attorneys offer affordable, and even flat cost, will drafting.

To see what drafting a will may cost you, check out our prices. If you’re ready to get started, book a free consultation today.

This website includes information about legal issues and legal developments. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You should contact an attorney for advice on specific legal problems.

Lauren Lester is an affordable family law, estate planning, and probate lawyer licensed in Colorado.