DIY Will: Dangers in Your Will

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There’s something appealing in the phrase “do-it-yourself”: it brings to mind a self-sufficient, able individual, gaining independence from those pesky expenses by tackling the problem with your own two hands. It’s the kind of outdoorsy, homestead imagery of assembling a table from timber that you felled yourself. A rustic freedom won through the power of the individual.

Of course, the difference here is that most anyone can wield an axe decently enough to chop down a tree. When it comes to specialized skills requiring in-depth knowledge, doing it yourself could be the fast track to long-lasting catastrophe. There’s a reason most would balk at DIY dentistry.

Despite this, there’s a baffling rise in popularity of the DIY will kit: an easy, quick answer to a tricky, complicated problem. Namely, what do I leave behind in my bequests, and who should be responsible for implementing my wishes?

Note, however, that it’s just an answer, not a solution. Much in the same way that I could reply that two plus two equals watermelon, not all answers actually address the question.

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The big glaring problem with DIY wills is that there is no culpability, no guarantees, no safety net, and no enforced standards. Lawyers must be insured and take yearly education. They are held responsible for their advice, and so have a vested interest in providing the best service possible.

Meanwhile, online will services lack strict guidelines and principles, and there’s no guarantee that the provider is even qualified to properly prepare and present documents for their users. In fact, most online forms include disclaimers that they aren’t responsible for what you do with their forms, which isn’t exactly the stamp of confidence I want on something which impacts the rest of my afterlife.

To quote Ed Olkovich of MoneySense: “Online wills are no substitute for lawyer prepared wills. There are only dangers, not advantages.”

However, some may feel that something is better than nothing. Which, fair enough, it’s a common sentiment. That sentiment becomes detrimental, though, when they then try to address this absence without really being aware of what they’re missing. Imagine trying to complete a puzzle except that you can’t see the pieces. And that’s for those who even bothered to begin with.

According to a 2012 LAWPRO survey, 56% of adult Canadians don’t have a signed will, which means that over half the population lack control over their estate in the event of their death. This overall lack of urgency in what should be one of the most important decisions in a person’s life speaks to how little emphasis is placed on wills, and how little correct information is circulated in the public consciousness.

Here’s one for a start: people vastly overestimate the cost of a quality will, especially in the context that an improperly-drafted will might saddle their supposed beneficiaries with thirty years’ worth of headaches. Relatedly, the misconception that a will doesn’t matter because they’ll be gone: a will was never for benefit of the deceased, it was for their loved ones.

It’s this discrepancy which instills the underlying skepticism about DIY wills. It’s a legal document meant to ensure recipients receive benefits, but it can easily hinder them for decades. It’s supposed to advise on matters that are literally life-or-death but have lax standards of accountability. It’s meant to bequeath an estate to others but is cheap because the testator wanted to save for themselves.

Bequeathing is a complex legal intricacy; it cannot be adequately summarized and fulfilled with a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet. Trying to “do it yourself” is akin to an amateur physicist organizing the periodic table by taste: dangerous, impractical, and your relatives probably won’t bring it up in fond remembrance at the wake.