There are some things in life that you don’t get to “do over”. Estate Planning can be one of those things.
I understand that people are reluctant to consult with attorneys because they are concerned about the cost. And the internet has made us all experts in things we know nothing about (and I am sometimes as guilty of this as the next person), but as a friend and colleague of mine is fond of saying “Law is not a DIY project.”, and nowhere is this more true than in the area of estate planning.
In over a decade of practicing law, I have gotten to deliver the bad news to surviving spouses, adult children, and even grandchildren that their recently deceased loved one’s brilliant idea to save money by finding a form Will on the internet will instead cost them money, and in some cases, ends in a much different result than intended. That is one of the things about my job that is not much fun.
I recommend that everyone has a Will, and that they have an attorney help them prepare it. I don’t care if you’re single with no children. I don’t care if your children have grown, and your spouse is deceased. I don’t care if you have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. If you own anything, you should have a Will, because even if you don’t own real estate, and your estate is small enough to dispose of with an Affidavit of Successor, you should have a Will, if only to make it clear to your friends and family who you want to have in charge and who you want to inherit your possessions. But if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Washington doesn’t have complicated rules regarding Wills and Codicils, but failing to satisfy the requirements set forth in the statutes may result in a document that is invalid, or that has to be authenticated, sometimes years after the fact, before a Court will admit the Will to the probate. And if your Will is invalid, then your estate will be distributed according to statute, rather than the way you intended and set forth in the Will.
I understand that cost is an issue for people. I am sensitive to this concern. But I’ve also had to sit in a conference room with grieving family members and explain that the Will that someone got on the internet is invalid, and because of statutory succession, a family member that wasn’t intended to get a portion of the estate will now inherit a share, and that the probate process itself is going to be longer and more expensive because without a Will, the Court will be involved with every decision the Administrator will make. And because many people make a Will, and never again think about it, there is often no “do over”, because once the Testator dies, the Will cannot be changed. If you love your family enough to plan ahead, please, love them enough to do it correctly.