Stories of dying patriarchs and matriarchs rewriting their wills on their own at the last moment make for good entertainment, but bad precedent. Even more trouble than personally altering your entire estate plan on a dying whim is never consulting an attorney in the first place. The more you have to leave, the more you have to lose — or more correctly, the more your heirs may have to lose.
Consider something like the federal estate tax. This has driven the trend from simply writing wills to longer range estate planning. Just writing a will you specify who gets what of your estate when you die. That has left some families having to sell off precious family property just to cover estate taxes. If you have enough money for that to be a problem, a good estate planning attorney might advise you to start paying down your estate by making annual gifts to your heirs as your years advance.
Each state has laws of its own, and both state and federal law change regularly, tax law in particular. An estate plan you have worked out yourself may not consider all the statutory requirements. If you moved from one state to another after making your plan, a will that worked just fine in the original state could have fatal flaws in the new one. A fatal flaw could void your will completely, in which case the court must treat you as intestate — as if you have no will at all.
Such possible flaws vary as widely as laws. Ambiguity, less a double meaning than an unclear meaning, may not void an estate plan, but can throw it into probate, Then a judge has to interpret what you meant. Family conflicts can cause bigger problems. In some states if you do not include relatives in your will would inherit if you died intestate, they can challenge your will and keep others you may want to inherit more from getting anything.
These problems with drafting your own estate plan get very complicated when you want create a foundation, conservation easement, or trust fund. Unless you consult a qualified estate planning advocate you could end up with the wrong people in charge of the foundations. It may seem a nuisance, but the laws exist to protect your will, not to confound it. Their entire purpose is to secure that your final legacy ends up right where you want it.
Estate Law | Ryan C. Young | Richmond, Virginia