Every week, many Americans head to the closest hardware or home improvement supply store, always with the best of intentions. But when the showerhead you installed sprays water all over the bathroom, it’s easy to fix and clean up the mess. The same cannot be said of do-it-yourself estate planning. In fact, estate planning mistakes made today can make life very difficult for your heirs in the years to come. When thinking of do-it-yourself estate planning, consider the following dangers.
Failing to Follow the Law
Every state has laws about how estate planning documents should be written. The average person does not have the training and knowledge to understand the unintended consequences that can occur because of do-it-yourself estate planning.
For example, Sally wants to disinherit her estranged spouse. She handwrites a Will and leaves it where her family can find it. However, Sally didn’t know that Alabama does not honor handwritten Wills unless they have been signed by two witnesses. Because her Will is void, her estate is distributed according to the intestate laws of Alabama. Had she used an attorney, not only would her Will have been written and executed correctly, the attorney could have explained Alabama’s elective share laws.
Failing to Sign Correctly
Alabama law is specific about the proper way to sign a Will. In most cases, the Will must be:
“… signed by the testator or in the testator’s name by some other person in the testator’s presence and by his direction and shall be signed by at least two persons each of whom witnessed either the signing or the testator’s acknowledgment of the signature or of the will.”
A judge may void wills that are signed incorrectly. The testator’s estate then might be distributed according to Alabama’s intestate laws.
For example, Harry prepared his Will from an online site. He made sure the Will clearly stated how he wanted his property to be distributed after his death because he was disinheriting his youngest son. Unfortunately, Harry signed his Will while he was alone, then mailed it to his cousins for them to sign as witnesses. Because the cousins did not see Harry sign the Will, the heirs may contest the Will.
Failing to Distribute Assets as You Intended
Without the advice of an experienced Alabama estate planning attorney, people may sign a Will that distributes their estate assets very differently than they intended.
For example, Joe plans to leave the bulk of his estate to the children from his first marriage. He also wants to set up a trust for his daughter, who is disabled. He thinks his Will covers all the bases. However, after his death, his second wife claims an elective share of the estate, which reduces his children’s share. The trust he hoped would help support his daughter instead makes her ineligible for government assistance. Despite his best intentions, Joe’s do-it-yourself estate planning left a mess for his heirs.
Do-it-Yourself Estate Planning Is Not Worth the Risk
Call Bruce Adams. He has the skills and experience to help with your estate planning concerns. Please contact us at 256-237-3339 to set up an appointment or use the convenient Contact form on our website. Our office is located in Anniston, Alabama, but we assist clients in surrounding Calhoun, Cleburne, Etowah, and St. Clair Counties.