Online Wills and DIY Will Kits have long been heralded as a saviour for the time-poor (or just poor in general). But are they all they're cracked up to be? Everything you need to know before you DIY your will.
"I often get asked what I think of DIY wills. I used to be too scared to say "They suck balls" and instead would say "I don't hate them". But actually I do hate them. But absolutely NOT the people who make them!"
No word of a lie, nothing breaks my heart more than someone stealing the last Fruchoc from the bag.
Nothing except receiving a phone call from a family who has just had a loved one die and they’re swimming, no drowning, in a monumentally huge puddle of fresh hell that’s been created by a rubbish will, a punishing will or a DIY will that's unlikely to hold water.
When I first started working in Estate Law I used to get asked all the time what I think of DIY wills (I don't get asked so much anymore, so clearly people are getting the message!).
For a long time I used to say “any will is better than no will”, and I truly believed that. However, over the last two years when it’s been my business to triage the fallout from poorly written wills I’ve entirely changed my mind. Whilst I don't hate the people who make them I absolutely hate DIY wills. Here's why;
Having no will is reckless. It’s like riding a motorbike backwards, with no helmet, wearing stilettos (ok clearly I don’t actually ride a motorbike but you get the point). When you take risks chances are you know things might go sideways and you’re prepared to cop the consequences.
However, having gone to the effort to procure a will kit or sign up for an online will program suggests to me you want to do the right thing. That your intention is to protect your family. That you know the risks and are trying to avoid the consequences.
This is what distresses me so much about folks unwittingly harbouring a ticking timebomb in their top draw and not in fact the glitter bomb of kindness they think they’re in possession of.
I don't deny DIY wills have made estate planning accessible for a vast number of people who wouldn't normally have a will. But DIY Wills, like any DIY project, are marketed as a simple solution to what is often a complex undertaking when going it alone.
Putting your will together includes technical considerations to ensure the document you're creating is legally binding and practical considerations about the best way to distribute your estate.
DIY wills are a bit like me attempting to follow a recipe (cooking is not my forte). I don’t always follow the recipe properly. I burn the food or it turns out weird. My cooking is an easy mistake to fix: I scrape off the burnt bits or take the family out to a restaurant for
some professionally cooked magic. But the outcome of a badly-written will can be devastating for families.
If you're still convinced your life and family isn't worth spending a few hundred bucks on, then here are the top four things you should consider before you get out your glue gun and sticky tape.
1. DIY wills are easy to get wrong
We all make mistakes (more than once in my life I have grabbed two conditioner bottles and left the shampoo bottle on the supermarket shelf). Even the simplest will template needs to be filled out properly in order for it to be valid.
Something as simple as a spelling error, a too-vague description, or even the wrong type of crossing-out can invalidate your will or make things hard for your family after your death. Even something as simple as tearing the will out of the booklet and discarding it (the booklet) can render your DIY will invalid in some states.
2. A piece of paper can’t give you advice
Your will is an opportunity to get clear on your wishes and put plans in place for the future, not just distribute your assets. It's so much more than just a piece of paper.
Like many areas of life, when it comes to wills most of us don’t know what we don’t know. Within minutes of talking to my clients during their first estate planning meeting we normally come across some misconception or a wish that can’t be legally executed.
DIY wills do not help you with these decisions or explain the ramifications or legal process required to communicate your wishes through your will.
3. For most of us, life is colourful
Many people like their wills to reflect the glorious, colourful richness of their lives - and that’s absolutely OK. The problem is that getting creative with a DIY will increases the risk of omissions or errors, which could cause unnecessary confusion, stress, time and legal expense for your family and loved ones after you've died.
I’ve known families who’ve been left with nothing after a creative DIY will has been through the courts and the legacy left behind is a beautiful scrapbook but broken relationships and hearts.
If you have your will drafted by a lawyer you can make it as personal and colourful as you like AND make sure it’s legally watertight.
4. Your life is important
One of my favourite sayings is 'things don’t matter, people do'. I believe that wills are actually more about people - and love - than money and things.
Sure, the money side of wills is important. But wills are also about passing on a message to your loved ones: that they were important to you, that they were loved and cared for. It’s also about saving them from tough decision-making further down the track.
Your life matters. How you are remembered matters. Paper is cheap. Estate planning advice - and making sure your loved ones are looked after - is priceless.
Do you or a loved one have a DIY will and not sure if it will hold up? I offer free checks on your DIY wills to help you work out if there are any gaps or problems your family may encounter. No obligation, no strings attached.