Every year, many consumers create their own estate planning documents, such as wills and powers of attorney, using do it yourself kits. These kits can be found online or in shops across the country, ranging from free downloadable documents to significantly expensive ones.
There are kits available for wills, powers of attorney for personal care and finance, joint account and joint asset planning and even trust documentation is available in a do it yourself format.
With an increasingly sophisticated population of people using the Internet, more people are turning to these kits as an alternative to meeting with a lawyer to prepare their estate planning documents. As a result, there is a proliferation of these products online.
One reason people may choose to turn to a do it yourself kit as opposed to hiring a lawyer is the issue of cost. While these do it yourself kits do tend to save money in the drafting stage, they can end up costing more in the long-run.
It is always advisable to start thinking about your estate plan early and for many people drafting these preliminary documents is one of the first things that puts them on the path to organization for the future. Using a do it yourself kit can give people a feeling of security they seek in an easy, quick way.
Do it yourself will kits are not all created equal. Some work and some don't. It is important to explore all the options before making any decisions as there can be lasting repercussions. The Internet is full of information and products and these type of big decisions require you to filter through it carefully.
Do it yourself documents that can be prepared quickly are beneficial in an urgent or emergency situation when something like a power of attorney is needed right away. Professional advice can then be sought afterwards.
Reputable online resources such as the Ontario Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) and jointasset.com have good products available. For example, the OPGT has an excellent, free power of attorney precedent. However, as strong as the document is, it may not always be employed properly.
Further, documents that are not properly executed and/or signed may not be valid which could cause problems, sometimes legal, that can get expensive. Your will and powers of attorney may be among the most important documents you prepare and there can be consequences if they do not appropriately reflect your intentions.
On balance, do it yourself will kits should be used carefully. Firstly, they may use words and phrases from a different time and contain legalese. You may not understand the consequences of the terms used and the draft may not have the intended consequences. Secondly, in many provinces and throughout the United States, there are requirements for the proper execution of documents and the rules vary by jurisdiction. If the rules are not followed, the document will not be valid.
For example, in Ontario, section 4 of the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA) provides that a will is not valid unless it is signed in the presence of two or more attesting witnesses present at the same time and the two or more of the attesting witnesses subscribe the will in the presence of the testator. Section 7 of the SLRA sets out the specific requirements for the signature of a testator in a will.
A lawyer will be properly versed in the law and the requirements, thus limiting the possibility of misinterpretation and invalidity.
*Ian Hull and Suzana Popovic-Montag are partners at Hull & Hull LLP, an innovative law firm that practices exclusively in estate, trust and capacity litigation. To watch more Hull & Hull TV episodes, please visit our Hull & Hull TV page.