Estates & Wills & Trusts

DIY wills are a recipe for disaster: Kirsh

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Do-it-yourself (DIY) will kits can end up costing more than they save in legal fees, says Toronto trust and estate litigator Felice Kirsh, who is often called upon to litigate cases where testators created their own faulty estate documents.

Kirsh, a partner with Schnurr Kirsh Oelbaum Tator LLP, says she understands the instinct that testators have to save money, but this is not the place to do it.

“A will is probably the most important document you sign in your lifetime, and it’s essential you get legal advice,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Whatever the size or complexity of a person’s estate, it makes no sense to cut corners, says Kirsh.

“It won’t cost you much to get legal advice for the preparation of a simple will,” she says. “And if you’ve got a more complicated estate, then it’s even more important to obtain counsel to make sure your wishes are reflected in the will.

“It will be money well spent,” adds Kirsh, who has seen her fair share of horror stories in a long career devoted to estate litigation.

“Lawyers like me are in business partly because of people who did their own wills,” she explains. “Mistakes are inevitably made, and litigation ensues.”

Kirsh says laypeople are prone to language errors in DIY wills drawn up without the benefit of legal advice.

“They use terminology that isn’t clear, they use fancy words that don’t mean what they think they mean, or they mix up the names of beneficiaries,” she says.

Other common mistakes include the testator’s failure to ensure the document was properly signed and witnessed or an inappropriate estate trustee was appointed, Kirsh adds.

Although an increasing number of online services are available to the general public in the estate and wills sector, she remains skeptical.

One such site promises “peace of mind” for as little as $99, and claims customers can have a legal will within 20 minutes, dealing with the issues normally included in a testamentary document, as well as other arrangements it says are often overlooked, such as wrapping up debt and social media accounts.

But Kirsh says such services are just a more modern version of the DIY paper will kits still available at stationers across the country, and predicts they will feature in future litigation cases.

“I’ve had a number of cases that are in litigation because people used these forms to make their own wills,” she says.

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