People sometimes mistakenly believe that making a Will online or using a form sounds like a good money-saving idea. The truth is that creating a Will or estate plan using a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) service or a form involves substantial risks. If you make a Will without the benefit of personal assistance from an attorney, a number of things can go very wrong.
Your DIY Will may not be valid under Georgia law — or it may not do what you think it does. Most likely, the problems will not be discovered until it is too late to fix them. Your intended beneficiaries may not receive their inheritance at all.
If your estate ends up in court because of your DIY Will, attorney’s fees and court costs will consume a substantial amount of your estate assets. To make things even worse, the family fights that result can fracture lifelong relationships forever.
People who make DIY Wills have good intentions — but those intentions can have tragic consequences. That’s exactly what happened to an elder couple in Georgia who created their Wills online.
David and Beth met and fell in love after their respective spouses passed away. They got married in their early 70s. Each of them had assets of their own and natural children from their first marriage. They discussed their financial situation and agreed that they both wanted to take care of their own children in their estates.
David’s internet savvy was the envy of all his elder friends. He could find anything and do anything online. So, when he and Beth decided to make Wills, he searched the internet. He found a popular online estate planning service and decided that they could save a little bit of money by creating their own Wills.
David meticulously went through all the steps and questions. He made a Will for himself and one for Beth. Each of them left everything to their natural children and nothing to each other. The Wills set up their estates to accomplish their wishes precisely
The couple executed their Wills and safely stored them away in a safe deposit box. All the children knew about the Wills and where to find them if anything happened to Beth or David.
Within a couple years, David developed serious medical problems. Beth became David’s caregiver. She doted on him around the clock. Sadly, Beth herself suddenly became ill and passed away.
Beth’s three natural children presented her Will for probate. The Will named the children as beneficiaries of her $160,000 estate, with the assets divided equally among them.
After Beth’s death, David’s two children put him in the best nursing home they could find, at a cost of $11,000 a month. They also wanted to hire a private sitter to be with him during the day. After consulting with a lawyer, the children helped David prepare a petition to file in probate court, asking the court to award the entire $160,000 amount in Beth’s estate to David.
When David and Beth made their online Wills, they did not know that Georgia law could override the provisions in their Wills. In fact, there are state statutes that provide rights for surviving spouses regardless of what is in a Will.
A specific law provides a surviving spousal with the right to a year’s support from the deceased spouse’s estate, if the Will does not provide an inheritance for the surviving spouse. David’s children found out about the law from their lawyer, who assisted David in petitioning the probate court, requesting the support payment out of Beth’s estate.
The court decided the case, awarding David a year’s support as required by the statute. Beth’s three children ended up sharing only the $30,000 that remained, rather than the $160,000 that their mother had intended. The rest of Beth’s estate went to the support award to David and payment of the attorney’s fees and court costs.
This tragic situation is just one example of how Georgia law can undermine intentions stated in a Will that is created without the benefit of legal counsel. An online Will could be challenged in many other situations as well.
Any legal document executed in the State of Georgia is subject to all applicable state laws. That is true for Wills and for other estate planning documents, such as powers of attorney. If you sign any legal document without the benefit of counsel from an experienced lawyer, you take significant risks. The document may be legally invalid — or it may not accomplish what you think it does.
As the real-life example of the Wills that David and Beth created illustrates, using an online service to create estate documents presents significant dangers. If the couple had consulted with an experienced estate planning attorney instead, they would have discovered that using a trust (rather than a Will) would have accomplished their goals and avoided the problem with Georgia law entirely.
Trying to save a few dollars by using an internet service or pre-printed form really is not worth the risks you take in making that choice. The only way to ensure that you accomplish your goals — and that your estate plan is valid and does exactly what you want it to do — is to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.
In our Cartersville estate planning practice at Asset Protection & Elder Law of Georgia, we help clients find solutions for many challenging circumstances involving their assets, families, and estates. We provide legal services to clients throughout the communities northwest of Atlanta, including in Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Gordon County, Floyd County and Paulding County. Call us at (770) 382-0984 or contact us through our online form.