You can choose from many “do-it-yourself” last will and testament form kits. So, is it worth the money to pay an attorney to write your will for you? Well, an attorney may be less expensive in the end.
In their consumer pamphlet on wills, the Florida Bar states, “No sensible person would employ ‘just anyone’ to fill teeth, take out an appendix, or deliver a baby.” So why do the same for your important legal documents? If you really are trying to protect the financial security of your loved ones, don’t you think it is worth the money to consult with a professional? For those that do not agree, their heirs will probably have to spend a fortune on lawyer fees to sort out the mess after their passing.
A Will can be contested if it was not properly drafted, signed, or witnessed in accordance with the applicable state laws. Laws regarding Wills and the administration of estates vary by state. So Florida law is different from, say, California law. For instance, in Florida we have real property law, such as Homestead, which takes precedent over estate planning tools. What state laws, if any, were used or considered when your DIY Will was drafted? Who knows.
While you may find a kit that claims to have forms for Florida, buyers beware: every kit will make you acknowledge that it does not guarantee that it is able to do what it promises to do. That’s right, it may not provide you an enforceable last will or trust. Sadly, the warnings pop up at you after you buy the software, but most of us do not read them.
When you accept the terms, you are likely agreeing that you understand that the software you bought to create important legal documents may not achieve the purpose you intend and does not offer legal advice. In fact, it makes clear that it does not provide you any value. It is as good as a blank piece of paper. Just read it for yourself. Take, for instance, Findlaw Forms’ Conditions of Use, which warn users that, “We do not provide any express or implied warranties of merchantability, suitability or completeness for any of the products or services for your particular needs. The products and services are used at your own risk.”
Suze Orman, who offers financial planning advice on TV, sells a Will & Trust Kit as well. Her Terms and Conditions similarly state in relevant part:
TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMISSIBLE PURSUANT TO APPLICABLE LAW, SUZEORMAN.COM HEREBY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TITLE AND NON-INFRINGEMENT. SUZEORMAN.COM DOES NOT WARRANT OR MAKE ANY REPRESENTATIONS REGARDING THE USE OR THE RESULTS OF THE USE OF THE MATERIALS IN THIS WEBSITE IN TERMS OF THEIR CORRECTNESS, ACCURACY, RELIABILITY, OR OTHERWISE.
She wears snazzy jackets and has plenty of spunk, but that does not make her qualified to offer legal advice. For all Suze (or her company) knows, your designated beneficiaries may not get what you think they will because she can’t guarantee that the forms are fit or reliable for any use, let alone use as a Last Will or a Trust! Lawyers provide legal advice and are liable for their professional negligence. Lawyers guarantee you they will use their best professional skill. Moreover, many lawyers charge affordable fees.
Ultimately, when you use one of these form kits, you are taking a huge gamble on your family’s financial security because your documents may not be legally enforceable. People with very limited funds and a modest estate may still find that one of these kits is worth the uncertainty. If you really put family first and you have any money or property to leave them, there is no way you should rely on a do-it-yourself form instead of seeking the assistance of counsel. Contact an attorney in your state. A Florida estate-planning attorney can help you with this process, answer your questions, and help you plan for your family’s financial security.
Thank you to The Consumerist, a national consumer advocacy website, for featuring this article!
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, or post your comments below!
Consumer Pamphlet: Wills Trusts & Estates, The Florida Bar, available at: <http://www.floridabar.org/tfb/TFBConsum.nsf/48e76203493b82ad852567090070c9b9/a0091ab18d4875d085256b2f006c5b75?OpenDocument>