Don’t be trapped and fall into the mindset that the task of drafting a Will is a simple DIY task merely because there are many cheap DIY options available online and through newsagencies, even law firms.
It is critical that, before completing a DIY document you first determine if your wishes and requirements can be satisfied by a standard off-the-shelf document. In many cases it can, but if the DIY kit doesn’t meet your needs the outcome will be disastrous for your family. How do you assess whether a DIY kit is suitable or not? That’s the $64,000 question. There is a tendency among trustee companies and lawyers to give the casual impression that estate planning is a one-size-fits-all sort of business. In many cases the motive is innocent enough – keep it simple, don’t frighten anyone off. Unfortunately, this strategy has created a dangerous misconception about the nature and importance of a Will.
The reality is that like most lives, most Wills are a little complicated. That’s not to say a standard online Will can’t deal with your particular brand of complication – sometimes they can and other times they can’t. The danger is in making that assessment unaided. There are many common issues that most people don’t know how to address legally when completing a DIY kit without professional assistance – for example, the impact of having a blended family and the risk to wishes being fulfilled, having a beneficiary with a disability or one who can’t manage their own finances, a beneficiary in an unstable relationship or one who is in financial difficulties. Then there is the management of assets that do pass through your estate and are managed by your Will on the one hand and those assets that never form part of your estate so are not managed by your Will such as; jointly owned assets, life insurance proceeds, superannuation death benefits, trust assets, assets owned by companies and, interests in businesses to name just a few.
I should confess that I am a lawyer and my firm does offer DIY Wills. But we offer people who prefer the DIY option a way through the quagmire of unknown unknowns. Before doing a DIY Will with us, people must go online and complete a free ‘estate planning self-assessment’. This system helps identify any issues that may require assistance in the process of preparing your Will – we even offer a free consultation if you do need assistance. For many, many people the self-assessment will be completed and no red flags will be raised and they can be satisfied that they aren’t walking on cracked ice. For others, red flags will be raised and they will be advised of the nature of the issues requiring attention thus arming them with the knowledge to seek appropriate advice– from any lawyer they choose.
Wills are incredibly important documents. They can ensure a legacy, protect a vulnerable loved one and avoid family discord. They are not documents to be feared or avoided, but they are not universally simple and they are certainly not one-size-fits-all.
No one wants to spend money where they don’t have to, so by all means jump online and explore your options, but consider your particular needs as well as the price. If you get it wrong, you’ll never know. It’s your family who get to live with that legacy.
The combined blood baths in Brisbane and Canberra last night have much in common. Both Labour and the Blues could take heed of my planning and succession advice as the legacy they are leaving behind is pretty sad. Many parallels. Both teams (unlike the Maroons) are a bunch of talented but narcissistic individuals. One day it will dawn on both Labour and the Blues that they are both involved in team activities. Which surprisingly, requires a team effort to win.