DIY Wills; what you need to know before you go it alone

Fiona Shilton Estate Lawyer Adelaide

Everything you need to know before you do a DIY Will.

 

I often get asked, "What do you think of DIY Wills?" and many people are surprised to discover I don't hate them!

In the "pro" column DIY wills have made estate planning accessible for a vast number of people who wouldn't normally have a will.

But over in the "con" column, 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.

Here are the top four things you should consider before you decide to complete your DIY will;

1. DIY wills are easy to get wrong

DIY wills are marketed as a simple solution for time-poor people - and in many ways they are. But 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
the simplest will needs to be filled out properly in order for it to be valid.

The problem with DIY wills is that there’s no one to check it for you once it’s done.  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.

2. A piece of paper can’t give you advice

A will is so much more than a piece of paper.  Your will is an opportunity to get clear on your wishes and put plans in place for the future, not just distribute your assets.

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.

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.

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. I’ve known families who’ve been left with nothing after a creative DIY will has been through the courts.

If you have your will drafted by a lawyer you can make it as personal and colourful as you like, while making sure it’s legally watertight.

DIY wills are designed for simple estates but the reality is that most estates - and most lives - just aren't simple. They’re as rich and individual as we are.

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.

The wrap-up

DIY wills have made estate planning accessible for thousands of people. But they’re not a panacea and they do need to be handled with caution.

If you’ve got a DIY will, get a professional to give it the once-over. Whether that’s me or another estate lawyer you trust, I guarantee you’ll sleep more soundly at night knowing whether it’s watertight or not.

I offer free checks on your DIY wills to help you do just that. No obligation, no strings attached.

- We're all walking each other home - Ram Dass

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