In the information era, we have a lot of online tools at our disposal, and they are often free or very inexpensive. Although do-it-yourself (DIY) Wills have been around for many years, we’ve seen a real proliferation in these document templates during the internet age.
For some people with simple estates, a DIY Will – executed properly with the appropriate language required by the state of North Carolina – can be a sufficient tool for asset distribution upon death. However, most of us have lives that fall along a continuum of complexity, with assets featuring cash holdings, life insurance and retirement plans, as well as real property. Your Will does not control all of your assets, so it is essential that property not controlled by your Will is coordinated properly to ensure your intentions are realized. Moreover, a Will is only effective upon your death, and does not address planning for incapacity or other “lifetime” planning issues.
With a DIY Will, you must also keep lots of other forms up-to-date without the guidance of an attorney. If you have a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or IRA, or life insurance, you will need to ensure your beneficiary designations align with your Will. If beneficiary designations are not set up correctly, your goals may not be accomplished, or even worse, your assets could become subject to creditors or significant unnecessary taxes. There are also other ways to pass property without using a Will, and an estate planning attorney can assist you in effectively utilizing these methods.
The simple truth is that most people – even attorneys who do not focus their practice on estate planning – are not aware of all of the issues they need to consider nor understand all of the planning options available. Working with an estate planning attorney can help you identify all of the issues that may be relevant for you and your family and ensure all of your legal documents are in harmony with your wishes.