There are many websites and services that claim to offer free DIY wills and trusts, but should you trust these websites? Two Texas Legal Attorneys decided to try out these services to see if they were really as good as they claimed to be.
Texas Legal Attorneys – Alisa Hoggatt of the Hoggatt Law Firm and Erin Callahan of the Law Office of Erin C. Callahan – each created four wills using the most popular free will creation websites. All the websites claimed the wills were personalized to the state for which they were intended. However, Hoggatt and Callahan found serious issues with every will they created.
Wills Included Funeral Wishes
As part of the will, there was a section to include funeral wishes. Adding funeral wishes to a will is problematic. “It’s just not a good idea. A will is not the place for your funeral wishes,” said Callahan, “By the time [your family] finds the will, it is almost too late.”
Hoggatt explains, “If you put your burial wishes in the will, then your will has to be offered for probate. There is a whole waiting period in Texas before a hearing can be held. We are talking about a few weeks. Most times, we can’t wait that long for burial wishes.”
Instead, Callahan and Hoggatt suggest completing a document called a Disposition of Remains. This document allows you to share your funeral wishes with family and funeral directors beforehand. This way your funeral wishes are not subject to a court hearing.
Free Wills had Incorrect Language for Minor Children
The online wills created by Callahan and Hoggatt included incorrect legal language regarding minor children. They found that all the wills used terms like “conservator, conservatorships, and custodian for minors” which is not correct for Texas. In their practices, Callahan explains, “We use Guardianship language and we use Contingent Trusts in every single will. We also include language for special needs families.”
In addition to incorrect language, the free wills imposed the age of inheritance at 18 years old with no option to change or edit the age. Callahan and Hoggatt stress the importance of thinking through your family’s needs and wishes. “I really think that’s a disservice because most 18-year-olds do not have the financial knowledge to manage assets for themselves,” explained Hoggatt.
Creating a trust to be managed by a trustee may be a better option for some families, but that is not possible with a free online will. “All wills should include a Contingent Trust with Texas-specific language, and that is just not what we found when we looked through these online resources.” – Callahan
Texas Wills Were Missing “Independent” Executor Language
“These online wills say they are ‘state-specific’ but I have found that 99% of the time they do not use the word ‘Independent,’” said Hoggatt. “In Texas, we need “Independent” language in the will when talking about a legal representative, executor.”
In Texas, if a will does not specifically state and identity an independent executor then the default is a dependent executor. Hoggatt explains, “This means you are now dependent on the court. If you want to pay a bill or manage any part of the estate for the deceased person, you now have to go through the court to get approval.”
Wrong Signing Instructions for Texas
Even though the free online wills are meant to be straightforward and easy to complete, Callahan and Hoggatt found incorrect signing instructions for the wills. Hoggatt said, “A big overriding theme with some of these instructions was a worry if a client followed these instructions, their will would not be valid because it was not signed correctly.”
“Most of the time when I see problems in probate it is because the will was not executed properly. If it wasn’t executed properly, then it’s not valid. It is treated as if you died without a will.” explained Hoggatt.
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