Article 6-Estate Planning Series: The Risks of Using a Form to Create Your Will or Trust

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Last week, I started to explain the difference between a Will and a trust.  I will talk about this a great deal more in the coming weeks.  First, it is important to address why all Wills or trusts are not created equal; and why the use of a form can actually endanger your estate plan.  Having a Will or trust does not automatically mean that document is going to accomplish what you want.  And an ambiguous Will or trust creates its own significant set of risks.

For example, there are several companies or services that offer to provide you a Will “form” you can complete.  Using this form, you are told you can save money and -- best of all -- their form is valid in all 50 states.

It is no doubt cheaper to purchase a form than to pay for an attorney to draft up a Will.  It is equally true that “you get what you pay for.”  The fact that the form is valid in every state is not much of an advantage.   In Idaho, a handwritten Will is valid so long as the signature and significant provisions are in your handwriting.

In my experience, problems are much more likely to arise because the terms of the Will are poorly written or ambiguous.  Because it is left to you to “fill in the blanks,” a form can do little to help you ensure that your Will properly states your wishes.

An ambiguous Will can create serious conflict.  I have seen substantial resources – time, money and emotion – spent fighting between family members because of the unexpected passing of a husband and father.  The dispute arose from differing interpretations of his handwritten Will.

There was no question the Will was valid.  The entire Will was in his handwriting and signed by him.  He had properly “filled in the blanks.”  But in attempting to make his wishes clear, this husband/father used language that the son felt left him the right to significant assets.  Years of litigation ensued. 

A form may very well be sufficient to create a “valid” Will, or even a trust.  But this does not ensure that Will or trust will be sufficient to actually accomplish your wishes. 

© 2015 Steven J Wright  

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