As humans, we spend a lot of time simplifying our lives. We declutter our desks and decline invitations to social events we’re not interested in attending. We pay down debt and eat whole foods. “Keep it simple” has become a mantra, and yet—when it comes to estate planning—simplicity isn’t always so straightforward. Take, for instance, the case of Joan.* Joan was an older woman who came to us with an existing trust. The trust was fully funded, which is one of the two most important components of having a trust-based estate plan.
The other crucial component is trust maintenance. Empowered Legacy Planning is one of few estate planning law firms in Arizona offering a trust funding and maintenance program for a predictable annual fee. It doesn’t get more simple than that, especially when trusts are the topic at hand. However, Joan was adamant that this maintenance plan was more complex than what she needed. “Why are you trying to make everything so complicated?” she asked. “I don’t even want a trust at all. I just want you to dissolve everything so I can draft a simple Will myself…” Let’s forget for a minute how complicated it is to dissolve a trust. Removing all of the assets that have been transferred into it, completing a formal revocation form, and dealing with the probate court is far from easy (or inexpensive). But dying with a DIY Will in place? Let’s play out what that could look like for Joan’s family…
Joan’s family and loved ones will need to go through the probate process.
With a fully funded and well-maintained trust, the probate process is unnecessary, as the trust’s assets can pass directly to the grantor’s named beneficiaries without the need for probate. All Wills, however, must go be admitted to the probate court to be effective. Probate is time-consuming, stressful, and complex, often requiring the guidance and support of a probate attorney. The probate process is public, and thus, the details of Joan’s estate would become public record. Furthermore, the probate process would open the door to creditors or other individuals who wanted to make claims on Joan’s estate. Did Joan lose a bet to a friend back in the ‘70s and fail to pay them their winnings? When Joan’s DIY Will is probated, that person can come stake their claim to whatever portion of Joan’s estate they feel they are owed. The worst part of all is that Joan’s family and loved ones will be put through the wringer, rather than given the time and space they need to properly grieve their loss.
The simplest mistake could render Joan’s entire Will invalid.
Did you know there is a specific way that a Will needs to be signed and dated to be considered valid? Well, there is…and failure to follow this protocol could make your DIY Will as useful as a chocolate teapot. In fact, there are many seemingly innocuous mistakes that could impact the validity of your Will and fixing those mistakes could take years (and cost a fortune).
Joan’s legacy may die with her.
At the end of the day, we all plan our estates for one reason: to protect our loved ones and secure our legacies. We leave very specific items to very specific people, knowing that those items hold immense sentimental value. We leave money to our children and grandchildren, to help pay for college or buy a first home. However, if your DIY Will ends up dragging your family and loved ones into a lengthy probate battle—and your assets aren’t distributed the way you outlined in your Will—your legacy may very well die with you. The idea of a DIY Will might sound simple to the untrained ear, but chances are that it will cause more problems than it solves. When it comes to estate planning, we’re all for simplicity—but “simplicity” doesn’t mean “write your own Will.” The best way to streamline your estate plan and ensure a seamless estate administration process is to work with a qualified estate planning attorney—one who you truly trust has your best interest at heart—and follow their guidance. A good estate planning attorney will not mislead you, or “sell” you anything you don’t need. They will, however, ensure that your legacy lives on long after you’re gone.
* Client names have (quite obviously) been changed