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What to Know if You’re Executor of a DIY Will

Posted on: April 20th, 2017
last willDo-it-yourself templates for wills attract budget-conscious individuals, but testators commonly don’t consider the costly repercussions of using a template. Not only can provisions in DIY wills increase administrative expenses in probate, unintentionally omit loved ones from an inheritance, and cause an unnecessary tax burden—these templates can also cause estate administrative problems for executors. 

Upon an executor’s receipt Letters Testamentary from the Clerk of Court, they are granted authority over administering the estate and fulfilling provisions in a will, if the decedent had a will. When an executor oversees an estate with a DIY will, several problems might occur.

In an earlier post about estate plan controversies, our probate attorneys explain that some DIY wills include provisions that automatically disinherit certain family members. Since the testator of a DIY will prepares their own will, they miss an opportunity for a formal legal review to ensure the provisions match their intentions. On a related note, the manner in which assets are left to heirs or beneficiaries affects the tax that may be due upon the testator’s death. DIY planning does not consider pending legislation, the needs of beneficiaries, or other factors that should be addressed when structuring assets for post-mortem transfer. In these situations, executors will need to spend additional time explaining issues to heirs, and disgruntled heirs may pursue estate disputes.

Many DIY wills do not direct the testator to name a contingent beneficiary. If the named beneficiary of the probate asset(s) predeceases the testator, the executor will then follow state intestacy law in determining to whom the estate assets must be distributed. Intestacy law might not align with the wishes of the testator, which were not properly included in their will. This is another situation where surviving family may contest the will and cause additional expense and administrative hassle for the executor.

The possible situations outlined above could cause the executor to spend more time administering the estate. It will likely provoke the executor to seek probate counsel, which adds to the cost of estate administration. Unfortunately, the testator’s desire to decrease costs by taking an inexpensive approach to their estate plan could easily result in increased fees during administration. Since heirs receive a divided portion of the probate assets after estate expenses are satisfied, the testator’s actions ultimately reduce the amount of what loved ones receive.

If you find yourself administering the estate of an individual who used an online template or other DIY will program, learn about our executor services.
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