Mandy needed a will. She went online and found a website that advertised a will form she could prepare herself for $59.95. Why spend the money on contacting a lawyer when a DIY will would be just as good. But would it be?
What Went Wrong with Mandy’s Computer-Generated Will
The downside to the use of wills generated by the internet is that purchasers don’t know what they don’t know. What may look perfectly satisfactory to a person not trained in the law may be sadly deficient.
Deficiencies in Establishing and Providing for Beneficiaries
First of all, Mandy had two children who were born after she executed the will. Mandy didn’t realize it, but the will didn’t provide for after-born or adopted children, so they would get nothing when she died. The will’s residuary clause, designed to designate who gets any property not otherwise provided for in the will, failed to be broad enough to include all such property, meaning the omitted property would go to those who would inherit by law, not as she desired. Furthermore, a specific bequest Mandy had made to one of her children contained an ambiguity. This necessitated a judge’s order to decide its meaning. This expensive court proceeding might ultimately result in the discard of the intended gift.
Mandy’s will included no statement that it supplanted her previous wills. Therefore, when the new will was probated, the court would have to interpret the prior wills in concert with it. Again, added expense and potential abandonment of Mandy’s current intentions.
Deficiencies in Establishing Independent Administration
Mandy’s will lacked language required to establish that her executor could manage the estate independent of the court except for minimal oversight (what Texas calls independent administration.) Given this omission, the only way to establish an independent administration would be for all the beneficiaries to agree to it. In Mandy’s case, this would be unlikely, given the other problems outlined above. As estate planning attorney Christine Wakeman wrote in a paper she presented at a seminar in San Antonio, Texas in 2016, “…absent independent administration, probate is one big game of ‘mother may I?’”
The will-by-computer which Mandy signed did not allow the executor to serve without bond. That would mean that Mandy’s executor would have to obtain a bond for twice the value of the estate property, causing added effort and expense.
Mandy owned property which her executor would need to sell in order to make the distributions dictated by her will. Despite this fact, the internet will form failed to give her executor the power to sell. The executor would have to go to court and obtain an order from the judge authorizing him or her to sell the property, once again adding dollars to the expense side of the administration.
Mandy’s Internet Will was Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish
The pennies Mandy saved with an internet will would likely cost her estate hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in extra expense. Don’t make Mandy’s mistake. Consult an experienced lawyer who knows the essential elements for an effective will.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives and practices in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.