Self-Made Wills: Worth the risk?

Many often wonder if self-made wills are valid. In short, yes they can be valid. However, in creating a will without the guidance of an attorney, costly mistakes and errors can be made. One of the most common mistakes is the incomplete or unclear distribution of assets. For example, if you state that Person A gets everything, but later in the document also indicate that Person B gets a specific item. This simple mistake could end up causing a dispute.

Another common mistake made with self-made wills is the exclusion of a residual clause. Without legal advice, most people do not know how important this clause can be in executing a will. When a will only covers part of an estate, the rest becomes residual estate. This can happen if you do not update your will after you have acquired additional assets. The residual estate will then be distributed according to Intestate law. These laws determine who receives the property under the rules of inheritance. This is very important to know if you want to intentionally leave anyone out of your will.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the appeal in a case involving a self-made will without a residual clause. George Zeevering created his own will, intentionally leaving assets to only two of his five children. The problem with Mr. Zeevering’s will is that there was $217,000 worth of residuary estate. Residuary estate is what is left over when all clearly stated gifts are distributed and the estate expenses have been paid. Though Zeevering most likely wanted to leave the rest of his estate to only two of his children, it was not stated in his will. The court ruled that Zeevering’s intentions were unclear and the residuary estate was distributed among all five children. Unfortunately, this is what Mr. Zeevering may have been trying to avoid by creating a will in the first place.

This is why it is important to get help from estate planning attorneys. Had Mr. Zeevering gone to an estate planning attorney, the three children he may have been trying to disown may not have received nearly two-thirds of his estate. His other two children also would not have had to pay a fortune in court costs against their siblings.

An estate planning attorney knows how to make sure your intentions are properly executed. It is better to spend a little to have an attorney prepare your will to make sure there are no mistakes. Otherwise, you may end up leaving your family with needless legal fights and expenses.

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