I'd like to talk a
little bit about do-it-yourself wills, but not necessarily in the way that you
One thing that estate
planning attorneys --especially those who blog and tweet-- like to rail about
are online and store bought do-it-yourself wills. LegalZoom is the enemy, and
the lesser-known companies are even worse. I
know that I too have in the strongest possible terms castigated do it yourself
Well, I'm here to
tell you that in certain circumstances, and for certain people they may
But, what are those
Let's say you are 22
years old, unmarried, childless, and have minimal assets. You don't own a home,
you have maybe a few thousand dollars in checking and savings, or even the
beginnings of a retirement account. There are certain lawyers who will tell
you, that not only do you need a professionally prepared a last will and
testament, but that you also need a revocable living trust.
For me, estate
planning is helping my clients provide for and protect themselves in the event
of incapacity, and to provide for and protect their families in the event of
their death. Also, it is about helping my clients plan for and minimize taxes.
This involves preparing trusts that protect the decedent's assets for
their children upon their death, bypass trusts for spouses to minimize taxes,
life insurance trusts, charitable remainder trusts, and other tax minimization
strategies like Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATS).
But there are some
people, like the 22-year-old above, who really only need a will to "say
where their stuff goes." They don't need a trust for children, because
they don't have any children. They don't need a revocable living trust, because
they can use a pay on death designation on their bank accounts. As far as
their personal property goes -- let's be honest. No one is going to
really care about their broken down Ikea table.
For them, an online
or store bought Will, along with durable power of attorney and health care
surrogate is probably ok. I'm actually more concerned about the
health care surrogate and durable power of attorney, as there is certain
language that is required to be in there, and I don't know if the DIY companies
My other real concern
regards the execution of the documents. The problem often is that these
do-it-yourself wills are not properly executed. In Florida, in order for Will
to be valid, it has to be executed in the presence of two witnesses who are
also in the presence of each other. Then, in order for it to be self proved,
the testator and the witnesses need to sign again in the presence of a notary
public. The problem with these do-it-yourself wills is that the companies
either do not provide proper instructions to their "clients" about how
to execute the documents, or, the clients completely ignore them and do not
follow the instructions. This can be a problem.
But other than that,
for certain people, a LegalZoom will is probably fine.
Now, if you have
children, or more significant assets, or real estate, then I do not recommend a
do-it-yourself estate planning solution. But, if you are single, childless and
broke, you don't need me, and you certainly don't need a revocable living
trust, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to sell you something.
Visit South Florida Estate Planning Law for more commentary
from Florida estate planning attorney David Shulman.
Shulman is an attorney located in South Florida who focuses his practice on
Wills, Trusts and Estates, and Tax Planning. He attended George Washington University
Law School and Brandeis University, both of which he graduated with honors. In
addition David received his LLM in Estate Planning from the University of Miami
Law School. Prior to starting his own practice, David worked for the Internal
Revenue Service and a large South Florida law firm.