Why I would never recommend a Do-It-Yourself Will Kit?
Potential clients often ask me why they need an attorney when there are Do-It-Yourself or Self-Help Will kits available online and in various stores.
As an attorney who has experience probating an estate where the decedent died intestate (without a Will), I would never advise a client to complete their own Will. This is because every person is unique and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all Will template. Additionally, I have seen families stress and fight about issues that could have been avoided if the decedent had a valid Will.
A few days ago, I decided to purchase a Will kit to determine if these kits have improved. I purchased Smart Legal Form’s Living Will & Health Care Power of Attorney Forms Kit with CD from Office Depot. After reviewing the kit, I am still 100% convinced that completing a Will by yourself is a terrible idea.
These are the top FIVE (5) reasons why I would never recommend a Do-It-Yourself Will kit.
- The Will kit may be incomplete – When I purchased the Will kit, I noticed options for a Will kit and a Living Will kit. I opted to pay more for the Living Will kit. However, after examining the kit, I discovered that it only contained documents for the Living Will and not a basic Will. This is troublesome since most people who purchase the Living Will kit will assume that the kit contains basic Will documents too. Instead, the kit contains no documents that will control what happens to a person’s property after they are deceased, since a Living Will only controls what happens to a person’s property if they are incapacitated (unable to make decisions but are still living).The kit does not mention that a basic Will kit should be purchased separately and/or completed. As an attorney, we recommend that everyone have a basic Will before they complete a Living Will.
- You are not an attorney – Most U.S. attorneys must go to school for SEVEN (7) or more years before they obtain their law degree. Additionally, law school graduates must pass a standardized exam before they can call themselves an attorney. For this reason, it is unfair for any Do-It-Yourself Will kit to expect any person without a law school education to complete legal documents.
- You will jeopardize the validity of your Will merely because you want to save a few hundred dollars – Making mistakes on your Will can be costly. Additionally, if you make a mistake on your Will, your loved ones may have to spend thousands in probate court to distribute your estate.
- Do-It-Yourself Will kits only come with limited instructions – If you purchase a Do-It-Yourself Will kit and have questions, there will be no one to help you. The kit that we purchased indicated that customers can purchase legal advice by the phone call for a reasonable fixed fee from a network of online attorneys. This means that when you purchase a Will kit, there could be hidden fees. These hidden fees may end up costing you more than what you would have paid if you hired an attorney in the first place.
- Disclaimers, disclaimers, disclaimers – If you make a mistake, you cannot blame anyone but yourself. This particular Do-It-Yourself Will kit contained TWELVE (12) individual disclaimers. Most of the disclaimers are inside of the kit, so consumers will not be aware of what they are purchasing unless and if they read the fine print.
(i) “This product is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of an attorney. You can purchase legal advice by the phone call for a reasonable fixed fee from a network of online attorneys at…”
This means that the cost is not fixed and consumers may end up paying more to have an attorney review the documents over the telephone. Please keep in mind that attorneys over the phone cannot see your forms, so their advice may be based solely on what you tell them. This means that their advice may be inaccurate.
(ii) “Every state has different laws concerning living wills and health care powers of attorney, so this printed form may not be valid where you live…”
This means that the forms that are printed and included in the kit may not be valid in Texas.
(iii) “Note: Customer Service cannot provide legal advice. We cannot help you fill out forms, or discuss your specific legal situation.”
This means that after you purchase your Will kit you are on your own. The company washes their hands and you are left to complete the forms by yourself.
(iv) “Because of possible unanticipated changes in governing statutes as and case law relating to the application of any information contained in this publication, the author, publisher, and any and all persons or entities involved in any way in the preparation, publication, sale, or distribution of this publication disclaim all responsibility for the legal effects or consequences of any document prepared or action taken in reliance upon information contained in this publication.”
This means that if the forms are wrong or become outdated by the time that you use them, you cannot hold anyone responsible.
(v) “No representations, either express or implied, are made or given regarding the legal consequences of the use of any information contained in this publication.”
This means that even though the Will kit claims to be “simple”, “easy-to-use”, and that “Attorneys designed the forms in this kit to be valid in all 50 states”, the company indicates that no consumer can rely on any representation made on/in the kit.
(vi) “Purchasers and persons intending to use this publication for the preparation of any legal documents are advised to check specifically on the current applicable laws in any jurisdiction in which they intend the documents to be effective.”
This means that consumers that purchase this Will kit must take additional steps to research laws in their respective states to ensure that the Will is effective. Not only are consumers expected to research the law, they are expected to analyze the law and understand the law. This may be tough, if the consumer does not have a legal education or have experience drafting Wills.
(vii) “It is not recommended that you handwrite int the generic documents below, as it may not meet all the requirements of a valid living will and or health care power of attorney in certain states.”
This means that even though the Will kit contains a Will draft any person that completes the Will by hand may not have a valid and enforceable Will. This is harsh since this disclaimer is in the fine print and some consumers will not read the fine print.
(viii) “Before You Sign. Read your health care documents carefully. Make sure that everything is printed as you intended. Also, be sure that you understand the meaning of every word.”
Again, the Will kit maker expects consumers to understand the meaning of every word. It may be tough for a person to understand the meaning of every word in a legal document, if they do not have the legal education or have experience drafting Wills.
(ix) “Also, many provisions have a space for you to check or sign your initials. (Some state-specific documents have checkboxes, some have initial blanks, and some have both.) Where a provision has a checkbox or a space for your initials, you must check or sign your initials next to that provision if you want to include it in your living will and health care power of attorney.”
This was part of the Will kit instructions. It is very confusing – especially if you are not an attorney. Again, if you have questions when you are using a Will kit, you cannot rely on the kit maker to provide you with legal advice.
(x) “Note: Many states require you to get your document notarized before it becomes effective. Even in states where notarization is not strictly required, it is highly recommended that your documents be notarized to ensure that it is accepted by medical personnel in an emergency situation.”
Unlike the makers of the Do-It-Yourself Will kit, our office has free public notaries available for our clients. This means that our clients do not have to worry about having ineffective documents merely because they do not have access to a public notary.
(xi) “If the examples and instructions in our state-specific form contradict the instructions below, defer to the instructions in the state-specific form. These instructions and the instructions accompanying the state-specific forms are not intended as legal advice.”
This means that the Will that is provided in the kit may be different from the Will on the CD. You will be responsible to determine which document to use if one document contradicts the other.
(xii) “Note To All. The documents used in these instructions will not be valid in all states, so it is strongly recommended that you use the state-specific documents found on the CD-ROM.”
This means that you will be responsible to determine which document to use if one document contradicts the other.
For more information on Wills in Texas, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (281) 777-1236 today. We have two convenient locations in north and south Houston, Texas.
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