We are asked to review online wills for potential new clients all of the time. A large majority of them are wills that they obtained in a “kit” or downloaded from the internet off of a site for “do it yourself” estate planning. I’m not here to bash those sites and I’m not here to bash to kits. I’m here to just point out some differences between getting your will off the internet and working with an attorney. Then you decide what to do with the information.
Difference #1: Online wills and minor children.
When we design a will for someone (or any type of estate plan), we know about your family. We know if you have a loved one who has special needs, has issues managing their own money or money given to them, maybe they are not yet an adult (under 18 here in Georgia). We not only know this about your family, we build your estate plan around your family so unintended consequences don’t happen.
Example: A couple walks into my office and has two children, ages 8 and 10. The mom had been on Facebook not long ago and saw an Ad for a last will and testament and a few other documents for $47.00. She purchased the plan believing that they were definitely taking care of their kids by getting that will they have talked about for years! They signed the filled in the information online the site asked for about their family, they printed the document and followed instructions to the “T” in signing the document!
I’ll point out first, the will was valid. The will was signed properly. The parents followed all the instructions perfectly. They had a will in Georgia, even if it was off the internet.
Unintended consequence after review of their will: The kids are 8 and 10 years old. In Georgia, the kids are considered minors and cannot inherit without unintended consequences.
Short version: You can name a child to inherit in your will (or even as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy), however, if they are still minors when you die then there will be a court proceeding called a conservatorship, which is IN ADDITION TO THE PROBATE PROCEEDING, because a minor child cannot control/manage money. The conservatorship will be a court process whereby a judge decides who (which adult in the child’s life) gets to be in charge of the money you leave your children, the court will, until your child is 18 years old, supervise this person they put in charge, the court will need to be made aware when any of the money is spent AND, finally, when your child is 18 years old all of the money will need to be transferred to your child without any rules about how the money is to be invested, saved or spent.
- Probate proceeding (a court process) + a Conservatorship proceeding (a court process)
- Judge decides who watches over the money you have left your kids. NOT YOU.
- Judge supervises this person until your child turns 18 years old.
- Ongoing reports to the court required during the entire time.
- Perhaps attorneys fees, as well, during this time of supervision.
- At 18 years, your child gets all of their money, no rules about how to spend the money.
After working with an attorney to prepare their plan: The couple decide to prepare a trust based estate plan, something they had never considered because they didn’t really understand what trusts were and how they help parents of children under the age of 18 years. Their trust based plan now states that all of their bank accounts, home, personal property, insurance policies and investment accounts will be given to a Trustee (someone THEY choose and also choose back ups), to keep safe for their kids. The Trustee doesn’t get appointed by the court and doesn’t get supervised by the court. And, much to the relief of the parents, the Trustee doesn’t hand the money over to their kids when they each turn 18 years old, instead the Trustee continues to keep it safe and allows the money to be used for their kids college education, etc. When each of their children reach an age they are comfortable with, say 25 or 28, the remaining money then is given to their child. None of this needs a court to be involved, multiple attorneys, multiple court proceedings and no ongoing supervision.
We work with families all of the time who purchased a will kit from a store or through an online program. We appreciate and love the intention behind the purchases. We, however, know in our hearts that each of these families haven’t been asked all of the right questions about their family and about their choices. We also know that these moms and dads haven’t been educated on the consequences of their decisions in these plans, even the decision to have a will instead of a trust! (which is HUGE for a parent of a minor child).
If you purchased an estate plan, a will and/or even a trust online and have questions about whether the will (or plan) you have actually does what you want it to do when you pass away (when its too late), give us a call and schedule a strategic consultation with our attorney.