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Do DIY legal documents work?

What happens if someone creates a do-it-yourself legal document that they find online for estate planning or other legal purposes? Do DIY legal documents work?

As a lawyer, my first answer is always “Well…it depends.” In some instances, a completed legal document created from an online template can be sufficient, but problems and complexities often arise.

A probate challenge landed on my desk from a well-intentioned son who had tried to settle his late father's estate. Unfortunately, the template form he used for his father's will failed on many levels. It lacked the protective shield of a living trust and presented an intriguing twist due to an unusual choice of words. While it referenced names of intended beneficiaries, the wording was stated in one part to read: " pay or transfer the residue of my estate to my beloved husband, for his own use absolutely." This apparent copy-and-paste blunder introduced ambiguity and legal hurdles in deciphering the true intentions of the deceased. 

The son attempted to navigate the probate process himself by going online. After two years of struggle, he realized the need for professional guidance and contacted my office for help. 

This case stands as a cautionary tale for those who lean on online tools without fully grasping the legal ramifications. Due to the faulty language in this probate case, there had to be an investigation to ensure his father didn't intentionally incorporate such language, resulting in extra fees and probate costs to prove something that doesn't exist.

This case highlights the importance of seeking professional legal advice to ensure the deceased's final wishes are honored and the probate process unfolds seamlessly, devoid of unnecessary complications. Getting professional legal advice and setting up a living trust along with a will can also help to avoid the probate process altogether. 

My job is to educate, your job is to make the right decisions. 

As seen on Calabasas Style Magazine March 2024 Issue

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