Have you ever thought about doing an online will? There are many advertised as being a time-saving, low-cost option and so do-it-yourself wills are becoming more popular. But is doing an online will a good choice or will it end up costing you and your family down the track?
We’re a society that is big into ‘do-it-yourself’ anything. Bunnings is the new Sunday gathering place as people find the bits and pieces they need for their latest project or to renovate, having been inspired by TV shows such as The Block, House Rules and Grand Designs. YouTube tells us how to cut and colour our own hair and fix our washing machine or car. Being self-sufficient is great if you are growing your own veges and milking your own cow, but does the same apply to doing an online will?
It would come as no surprise that lawyers do not like do-it-yourself wills. ‘Of course they don’t’, you say. They miss out on the business and the potential monetary benefits and referrals. But what estate lawyers see that we often don’t is the very common mess that comes in the aftermath of a do-it-yourself will. What commonly happens is that an online will leads to a costly court battle – so any perceived savings are quickly eaten up.
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Doing an Online Will Yourself Can Have Limitations
Eileen McCormack, 72, knows the limitations of DIY wills all too well, having spent more than two years dealing with her cousin’s estate after discovering the document he had carried around in his pocket for several years was invalid. It was only after his death at 73 that a number of errors were discovered.
“There were hand-written amendments in different-coloured inks, plus the will wasn’t witnessed at the time it was drafted – nor when any of the changes were made,” says Eileen. “He constantly amended it and moved figures around, altering what people were due to inherit.”
Eileen discovered the extent of the problem only when she contacted Co-operative Legal Services to carry out the necessary probate work. The absence of a valid will resulted in 16% of George’s £98,000 estate being used to pay for fees – costs which could have been avoided.
“I tried to tell George to go to a solicitor, but he never did,” she says. “This has made the whole process very stressful for those left behind. It’s also very sad because George put a lot of thought into how his estate would be distributed in the event of his death. He wouldn’t have wanted this.”
Online Wills Can Help You Prepare for the Real Deal
CHOICE is the consumer advocate that provides Australians with information and advice, free from commercial bias. Their expert panel for their DIY will kit reviews generally don’t recommend will kits. They put five will kits – priced from $4.50 to $30 – to the test and found huge differences between them. They said that while some can help prepare a simple will, all of them have flaws.
Even with their flaws, though, CHOICE suggested that will kits can be an excellent research tool. Depending on your situation and skills, they can help you understand more about what you should put in a will, but they can’t adequately handle complex situations such as blended families or self-managed super funds. Nor can an online will deal with the myriad of what-if scenarios that happen throughout our lives. They make no allowances for divorce, remarriage, more children or grandchildren, or the death of a beneficiary, just to name a few. So CHOICE recommend you get some expert advice as well. Making sure your loved ones are provided for is far too important to leave to chance, and the consequences could be disastrous if you get it wrong.
There are definite disadvantages to online wills. The information you get is usually very general and there is no expert helping you to navigate your particular circumstances or checking for mistakes. One of the more popular online will sites, LegalZoom, cautions that 80% of its users make mistakes when completing their wills.
An Online Will Can’t Replace Expert Advice
There are many reasons why seeking legal advice when writing a will is much better than doing an online will. Bryan Mitchell, an Accredited Specialist in wills and estates, gives us some of those reasons:
1 Your affairs are more complex than you think. Drafting a will can be complicated, no matter the size of the estate. Nearly all of us have superannuation but this isn’t automatically dealt with in a will. Put young children into the equation and more intricacies are involved.
2 Your words can be misconstrued. Using your own words rather than legal terminology might create ambiguity.
3 You can have more control over who you exclude. If you decide to omit someone from your will, it might not be as simple as making a statement in the will regarding the person and reason. Such statements might make the person more likely to challenge.
4 More control over your wishes. Allegations of duress or mental incapacity in relation to you after you die will generally be more difficult to rebut if a qualified lawyer has not been engaged in the will-making process.
5 Signing and witnessing will be done correctly. Each jurisdiction in Australia has specific legislation in relation to the signing and witnessing of wills. This is commonly done incorrectly in many home-made wills.
6 You’ll receive advice on who is the best executor and trustee. Receiving advice in relation to the role of the executor and trustee of your will is important. Simply appointing a family member is not necessarily appropriate. Does this person have the time and expertise, or even want to assume the role? What if they pass away first?
7 Your beneficiaries may be better off. A properly drafted will can create tax and asset-protection advantages for beneficiaries.
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There really is no substitute for a qualified estate lawyer. At Estate Battles we have lawyers who are experienced in all aspects of estate planning and will preparation. We even have an Accredited Specialist in Succession Law. This prestigious accreditation comes under the auspices of the Queensland Law Society’s Specialist Accreditation Board.
For all your estate planning needs, please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.