DIY Estate Plan

There are many Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects that can help save money without any significant downsides. Unfortunately, when you are not an attorney, drafting your own legal documents can lead to disastrous results. Here are some problem areas I have regrettably seen:

  • A Last Will and Testament has some typical, standard language that is often grafted into DIY Wills without thinking, including that this new Will revokes all previous Wills. This can lead to the new Will 1) failing to direct probate assets to the trust, 2) having no effect over some property that was supposed to go to the new beneficiaries because the property is in the Trust and therefore not controlled by the Will, or 3) the trust ends up being revoked entirely because of the language in the Will. What was thought to be just an adjustment ended up destroying the estate plan.
  • A simple amendment to a revocable living trust transposed some language that says it is “an amendment and restatement” of their trust, when in fact it only modified a few specific sections. The result is that the 2 or 3-page document that they thought was changing a few things is now legally the whole entire trust, and the only thing that may be legally effective is those few sections in their amendment. This would be the equivalent of ordering the demolishing of the first fifteen floors of a sixteen-story building because you wanted to remodel the top floor.
  • These first two areas I have seen in the last few months; in the past, I have reviewed trusts and other legal documents where language or names have been crossed out and substitute language or names have been inserted. If the trust document was signed, witnessed by two people, and was notarized, then the cross-outs may be interpreted as a partial revocation of that section without the new words having any meaning. Worse, it could be argued in court that the cross-outs mean the entire document has been revoked leaving no plan in place.

With inflation generally rising and the cost of certain goods and materials going up, there is a growing desire to save money by doing things yourself. But even regular weekend DIY house repair people will decline to do their own electrical work because of the danger involved. Legal documents should be treated with the same care to defer that work to the right professionals. For a podcast on a DIY estate plan disaster, please check out the video at  Don’t forget to like my channel while you are there and click the bell so you are notified of new information.