The temptation is there. A fill-in-the-blank will is cheap—sometimes even free, while will drafted by lawyers generally costs four to five hundred dollars. But which really costs more?
In truth, using a fill-in-the-blank will is a gamble. If you decide to go with a fill-in-the-blank will, you will never know whether your will is a solid, accurate, and binding legal document or a worthless piece of paper. The same goes for using do-it-yourself legal form websites. This is because Texas law on wills and estates can be complicated, and a self-drafted will can easily go wrong. Problems with your self-drafted will won’t become apparent until you die and it’s too late to make changes. At that point, the people left to deal with any mistakes will be the people you created the will to protect.
Laws on wills and estates vary widely from state to state. Fill-in-the-blank wills are often overly-broad, failing to use the specific language different states may require and, in some states, (including Texas), are not valid. Failure to use properly specific language can confuse the court about what the will is trying to accomplish, and incur additional probate expenses for your estate. Wills also often involve legal questions that even experienced estate attorneys find it difficult to answer: questions about real property, common and separate property in marriage, oil and gas interests, interests in business entities, various forms of taxation, the validity of contracts, and more. Handling your own disposal of these matters in a will can be incredibly time consuming and, if handled incorrectly, can be disastrous for your heirs once you’re gone.
Wills gone wrong are a constant source of litigation between descendants. They are also a constant source of attorney’s fees. In one recent example from the Florida Supreme Court, a deceased woman who had used a fill-in-the-blank will to try to leave everything to her brother made mistakes which caused much of her property to instead be divided according to state intestacy laws. Instead of receiving a good inheritance from his sister, the woman’s brother spent years in a court battle, lost thousands of dollars to attorney and court costs, and, after losing at trial, inherited nothing.
Within the first two or three hours of litigation, your descendants will have likely spent more than it would have cost you to have a lawyer draft your will. What is that risk worth to you?
If you have enough assets that your descendants would potentially fight over them—whether those assets include cash, investments, a house, family heirlooms, a ranch business, or anything else—you will probably find it worth the cost to hire a lawyer to draft your will. A good estate planning attorney can use Texas law to provide for your particular needs in a document that will be a one-shot deal once you have passed away. It may come as good news to you that most firms draft wills on a flat-fee basis, meaning you can call the firm and simply ask what they charge to do a will. The cost of doing a flat-fee will compared to the cost of litigation between your descendants is so minimal that almost anyone would find a will drafted by an experience attorney to be a worth it 100% of the time.
The Takeaway: Any mistakes you make in a fill-in-the-blank will not become apparent until you’re gone and it’s too late. The risk you take by drafting your own will is a risk that you subject not only yourself to, but also your heirs. The minimal costs you save now may bring a much heavier burden to bear on your descendants.
– The Business Team
Scott | Josh | Jeremy
The Allen Firm, PC
181 S. Graham Street | Stephenville, Texas 76401
Ph: 254.965.3185 | Fax: 254.965.6539
The Allen Firm, PC is composed of a team of attorneys located in Stephenville, Texas. Our mission is to improve people’s lives by providing reliable and practical help with their legal matters while operating under our values of honoring people, operating with integrity and striving for excellence. We offer help in forming businesses or companies, estate planning, lawsuits, real estate, probate, oil and gas, collections, agriculture, bankruptcy, family law, and accident and injuries.