I have seen my share of client-drafted wills. While most people opt to have a lawyer draft their last will and testament, there is no requirement that an attorney do so. If you do opt to draft your own will, make sure to avoid the following five mistakes that I repeatedly see in layman-drafted documents:
1. No Inclusion of Your Family Tree
The core idea of a will is that you can leave your money to whomever you choose. However, most people don’t understand that your nearest family members are allowed to contest your will in court. Yes, they will most likely lose that contest, but your next of kin do have the right to know you are disinheriting them, so they must be placed on notice when you die and your will is submitted to the court for probate. The court will want to know your nearest heirs, particularly if you are estranged from them, since the court assumes they are the most likely parties to contest your will.
Include the members of your family tree (spouse, children, parents, siblings) who are alive or deceased (so that the court knows that these people do not need to be put on notice), and addresses of where your next of kin reside. If a close family member is being disinherited, make sure to state it in the will. Excluding your next of kin or ignoring their existence does nothing to bolster the validity of your will.
2. Leaving Funds to Beneficiaries Who are Minors
When I was 13, I was given $100. It seemed like all the money in the world … and it was spent within one week. Let me say this loud and clear: Minors cannot own substantial funds in their own name, clearly with good reason. In the case of any minor beneficiary receiving significant amounts of money outright, a court would be required to hold a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. A judge would appoint someone to oversee the funds (at your estate’s expense) to safeguard them until the child reaches 18 (at which point the child “buys the fraternity”). This guardian appointment is something you would have no control over, so, while it would be unusual, it could even be the judge’s campaign contributor or golf buddy attorney.