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The Pitfalls of Writing Your Own Will

A will is one of the most important documents that we will ever sign, this is your legacy and final wishes for your family, friends, church, or favorite social organizations and charities. Many people have written their own wills believing they are saving money by not hiring an attorney in Raleigh NC. This can actually result in even more attorney fees being paid from your estate to work through issues that were caused by the homemade or do-it-yourself will.

After working with the Clerk of Court for over a decade we have seen far too many estate horror stories as a result of someone trying to save a little money, and they truly are horror stories for the family and heirs of the decedent. You wouldn’t try to perform surgery on yourself, you would leave it to a skilled surgeon. The same applies to wills and other important legal documents, don’t try to be your own attorney in Raleigh NC.

In one case in 2008 a decedent left her car, home, and all other tangible personal property to her caregiver, but did not mention her bank accounts or investments in the will she wrote herself. The decedent was never married, never had children, had no siblings, and to make matters more complicated each of her parents was single children, meaning no aunts, uncles, or cousins. In short, there were no known heirs to receive the remaining assets in the estate. The caregiver argued that it was the intent of the decedent to leave everything to her, however, due to this significant omission in the will the money from these accounts could not be distributed to her. The result was more than $80,000.00 being escheated (surrendered) to the North Carolina State Treasurer’s office, where those funds remain to this day.

In another case a gentleman allowed his girlfriend to handwrite his will and he signed it. In the will, everything was left to the girlfriend and a neighbor. To complicate matters the girlfriend and neighbor also signed the will as witnesses not knowing that a beneficiary of a will cannot serve as a witness to that will. The challenge this created was that the will could not be admitted into probate. This is another case where the gentleman had no known heirs, so the entirety of his estate was escheated to the State Treasurer’s office leaving his girlfriend and neighbor empty-handed.

In each of these cases had they hired an attorney to write a simple will these scenarios would have been avoided and the intended beneficiaries would have been able to claim their inheritance. North Carolina law is very clear about how assets are to be distributed in the absence of a will, or if a will has omissions. This is referred to as “intestate succession,” and while these laws are necessary, they can and often do have the opposite effect of what the decedent would have wanted.

These are just two stories out of dozens that we have encountered. Each of these stories could have been easily avoided with the proper legal counsel. Sure, there are templates or fill-in-the-blank style wills that can be found on the internet. However, the danger still exists that the will may not be sufficient. A will should be tailored to the individual, not a cookie-cutter document. Each state has its own laws governing wills and estates. Online templates are not stated specifically and can conflict with the laws of the state resulting in the will not be admitted into probate, meaning your final wishes may no be carried out as you had intended.

Don’t try to go the cheap or free route. It will only be more costly in the end. A simple will can be tailored specifically to you by an attorney in Raleigh NC. Doing so will bring peace of mind to your loved ones when the time comes.

Eldreth Law Firm | Attorney in Raleigh NC 

Remember, if you don’t have an estate plan in place or haven’t reviewed yours in several years, now might be the best time to start. Our estate attorney is here to help you get your estate planning in order. It's important to get these things ready should you pass in an untimely manner or become incapacitated at some point. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to an estate plan. Contact our office.

As always, feel free to contact us at our office to schedule a consultation if you are looking for an attorney in Raleigh NC to represent you in other legal matters. We are here to assist you with small business needs, trademarking, copyrighting and other legal issues.

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