The websites abound! “Create your own will or trust today, almost free!” And plenty of people take them up on what they offer. But there’s a problem: that old saying “you get what you pay for” may be more true where wills and trusts are concerned than it is for almost anything else that exists. Because if there’s one thing your friendly estate planning attorney would like you to know about wills and trusts, it’s this: these legal instruments are perhaps the most form-fitting things you can buy. When done well, they are literally crafted to fit your life—and to your vision for how you’d like for things to happen once it ends. They stand in for you, when you are no longer able to stand on your own. Anyone who has owned a suit tailored to fit understands the difference between garb truly shaped to form and one bought off the shelf. And the importance of the wills or trusts we leave behind go well above and beyond the importance of a suit.
Perhaps it’s a function of people wanting to deal with the idea of their own deaths as little as possible. Certainly do-it-yourself website options help you get the thinking over with quickly. They basically skim right by all sorts of important questions that a skilled estate planning attorney knows to ask in order to frame the decisions a will or trust creator can make to improve the clarity of their intentions, as well as to increase the likelihood that the spirit of those intentions will be followed. But, again, that’s like buying a car without giving it a test drive or buying a guitar without playing up and down its frets. You aren’t getting all the information you need to make the best decision, and the system creating the will or trust isn’t getting the information it needs to craft the legal instrument around your life. It’s a round peg going through a square hole. And a triangle peg going through a square hole. And a hexagon peg going through a square hole. Sure, it fits them all. Sort of. It’s a hole. But it’s not the right hole, and the pegs all end up going through a situation that doesn’t match their identities as shapes.
Okay, perhaps we’re stretching the metaphors a bit here. But the point must be made. When you go the DIY will route, you’re wearing Old Navy digs to a Black Tie Event.
Here’s the thing: without contacting someone who has professional experience with the law of wills and trusts in Virginia, how can you know whether a will is better suited to your situation than a trust might be? Sure, you might know the general outline of what each of these legal instruments is and does—but there are hundreds of years of Common Law in Virginia affecting every sort of provision you could imagine in will and trust interpretation—and they are not innately evident in the wording one might put into a will or trust. And cardboard cutout wills use the most general language possible.
Our job is to know the right information—or at the very least where to find it—and how to apply it to an individual life. In fact, where estate planning attorneys are concerned, that’s what the “practice of law” is. We had to go through law school, pass a difficult Bar Exam, and get licensed to prove we can do it. You think a “DIY will” website can match that? Computers are good at things like chess, where the rules are clear and hard-edged. But though law strives for clarity, it actually inhabits the gray zone where hard rules and the messiness of human existence meet and mingle. Interpretation of rules in law is just as important as the written rules themselves. (Looking outside of our field of estate law by way of example: this is how so many people can have different opinions of what Constitutional Amendments “say.”)
You can do better than a DIY will or trust website. We can help.
If we have you even part-way convinced against slapping together your own will or trust from ill-fitting boilerplate, attend one of Promise Law’s free estate planning workshops. These workshops provide a great foundation of information that everyone needs to make sound planning decisions. Moreover, if you attend a workshop, you also get a complimentary one-on-one consultation with one of our attorneys.