No one wants to pay more than necessary for a proper estate plan, including a will, power of attorney, living will, trust, etc. There is a recent trend where websites offer to create a will for as little as $69.00. Although a price that low is enticing, sadly many know the horrors that come from an improperly prepared estate plan. “You get what you pay for” is one of life’s most fundamental truths and never more pertinent than when it comes to your estate plan. I can promise you, paying the bare minimum for a will will only lead to further heart ache and oddly enough, a tremendous increase in costs as opposed to simply preparing a valid estate plan from the start. And the cost of having a lawyer prepare your estate plan, may just surprise you.
There are a number of ways to contest the validity of a will. The attack of a computer generated will often focus one of two defects; improper form or improper execution. In Louisiana, a will is deemed valid if the form of the will complies with Louisiana law, which requires a formal execution of said will. If the form of the will is invalid, or if the testator does not properly meet the particular requirements for proper execution, the will is deemed invalid and thus not enforceable. This means, if the will is not prepared a certain way or the will is not signed and/or notarize properly, the will is defective and thus null and void. Many of these online wills have been contested in court, many of which were deemed invalid. In a recent case before the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court stated , “[g]iven the reliance on … computer-generated testaments, we strongly feel the public would benefit from the form provided by the treatise author, a noted member of the Louisiana State Law Institute Succession and Donations Committee upon whose recommendation La. Civ. Code Art. 1577 was enacted….” This statement is basically a public service announcement warning the public to beware of computer-generated testaments.
The sad reality of a will or estate plan package purchased online is that the validity of the document, more often than not, will not be tested until after the testator has passed away. In other words, if there is a problem with the document, it will not likely be known until it is too late to fix it. The effect of this is that the estate plan is now null and void, despite the best intentions of the testator. The main purpose of a will is to eliminate conflicts and avoid further heartache at an already emotionally charged time. Why take risks in a document that’s sole purpose is to eliminate or greatly minimize risks?
I often tell my estate planning clients that writing a will is one of your only opportunities in life to literally write the law. You get to decide what happens after your passing. Your heirs do not have to like what your valid and enforceable will says, but they do have to respect it. Estate plans need to be crafted and customized personally on a case by case basis. There is not a form large enough to cover all bases and unfortunately, the wills found online typically take a “one size fits all” approach.
One situation that I have faced in my practice that is near to my heart is estate planning where a disabled child is involved. Suppose you have a disabled child above the age of eighteen at the time of your death. Is that child a forced heir? What is a forced heir? Can that child inherit if he/she is mentally incompetent? What determines incompetency? Will they be protected if there is no will? Is there a trust? Is it a Special Needs Trust? Will that child’s inheritance cause them to lose eligibility for future Medicaid/ Medicare benefits, often the only means by which these children are cared for and in many cases kept alive? Do you think an online, “one size fits all” will can cover all of these bases effectively? I assure you the answer is no. Don’t beleive me? Just read the terms of service (a.k.a. the fine print) on any of these will preparation websites.
I provide a complete range of estate planning services, including wills, trust, probate, successions, estate administration and probate litigation to my clients at very affordable prices. If you are considering your estate plan, I urge you to save your $69.00 and speak to a real, licensed Louisiana attorney that specializes in estate planning. I would love to be that lawyer and my consultations are always free.