Every day it seems that a lawyer will write something online warning against trying to prepare one’s own Will, and very often the arguments are supported by some questionable anecdotes that describe how a person messed up their Will when they tried to prepare it without legal advice. We published a post in September ridiculing the example of the person who apparently inadvertently left their entire estate to “insert name here” because they didn’t realize this was simply a placeholder. We suspect that this was an apocryphal tale designed to scare people into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for unnecessary legal advice.
Yesterday I read the following post which warned people against creating their own Will with a number of examples of how easy it was to make a mistake. This paragraph though particularly piqued my interest.
DIY kits rarely take into account the complexities of divorce, remarriage or having children from a previous marriage. Without proper guidance, a mistake in this area could cause a number of problems, including a spouse losing out financially to a child from a previous marriage (as was the case with Ana Nicole Smith) or the disinheritance of children.
That certainly is a scary thought; the idea that by preparing your own Will you could make the same mistake as Anna Nicole Smith with all the legal wranglings and paternity tests that have been bleeding her estate dry since she died. But hang on….Anna Nicole Smith prepared her own Will? I thought she was surrounded by lawyers! Her estate was worth millions of dollars; and with the complexity of her family situation she would certainly be the type of customer that LegalWills would advise against creating her own Will.
A little research discovered that her Will was a complete mess. It included a bizarre clause that leaves everything to her living child but intentionally disinherited all future children. This is a clause usually reserved for philandering men who try to protect their estate from future claims of hitherto unknown children.
A wonderful blog article by Robert E Bauman, a respected JD (Doctor of Law) commented;
“having read some of the provisions of the will, I’m wondering if it was written in the dark by the law school’s pet mascot….So why did Anna Nicole’s will have such an “after born” disinheritance clause? It seems her artless drafter copied it straight out of a legal form book without reading it.”
The “artless drafter” in question was one Eric James Lund, registered attorney of Los Angeles.
So far from discrediting the process of preparing one’s own Will, this particular example highlights some of the inherent risks of going to a lawyer. Two significant issues come to mind;
You are more likely to place all of your faith in the skills of a legal professional assuming that they know what they are doing, and less likely to step through the clauses in the Will and question their relevance to your situation. We discussed this precise issue in a previous post.
Secondly, you are less likely to update your Will to reflect changes in your personal or financial situation. With a service like the one at LegalWills the client can simply login, make a change, create a new Will and be done. It seems that unfortunately in the 5 months after giving birth to her daughter, Anna Nicole Smith was unable to organize a trip to Mr Lund’s offices to update her Will. This is a very common scenario.
So there are definitely situations where legal advice is a good idea; we’ve made that observation in many previous posts. But this example does nothing to discredit the act of preparing one’s own Will.
And, by the way, the Wills at LegalWills would never include a clause like the one creating problems for Ms Smith’s family.