Internet Wills -Don’t Use Them

People use the Internet in ways that are very beneficial. However, if you want your property to go to the people you want to receive it when you die, using a will form you found on the Internet is risky and not a good choice. As a consequence of preparing your will from a form available on the Internet, your property may not go to your intended beneficiaries.

Below are a few examples:

  1. You need a lawyer to make sure that the will you sign meets Maryland State laws which are not difficult to follow but, without the expertise of a lawyer, you may find that your will is not valid under Maryland law. If your will is not valid in Maryland, then you have died without a will. The laws in Maryland set out who will inherit your estate when you die without a will. This is called dying “intestate”. Let’s assume you are married and have children and you do not have a valid will. Upon your death, your children will receive 2/3rds of your estate and your wife will receive 1/3rd of your estate -- certainly not the outcome you expected.

  2. Let’s assume that you have two adult children who have children, (your grandchildren). In the event of your death and your children’s deaths, do you want your grandchildren to receive their parent’s share, which means the grandchildren receive their parent’s share by representation? Alternatively, do you want all of the grandchildren to receive a share based on the total number of grandchildren? That is called per capita, meaning that if there are a total of five grandchildren, each receives not their parent’s share but the amount of the estate divided by five. The Internet will form you use may not offer these alternatives and without consulting an attorney, you may not understand the significance of these options.

  3. Successor in interest beneficiary. You sent forth in your will, “I leave to my son James all of my stocks held at T. Rowe Price and my 2016 Telsa automobile”. Your son does not survive you, you do not update your will, and at the time of your death in 2027 you no longer own your 2016 Telsa but you now own a 2026 Chevrolet and a 2017 Jeep. You could have provided a better description of who gets all the stock by saying, “In the event my son James does not survive me, my stock held at T. Rowe Price goes to my son James’ children” or to another designated beneficiary. Otherwise, when you don’t name a successor beneficiary, the property will go to the heirs of your son James. The heirs of James could be his spouse as long as they are still married and have no children; or if James left a surviving wife and children, then his heirs are his wife and your grandchildren. Since you no longer owned the 2016 Telsa at the time of your death, no vehicle(s) goes to son James. However, if the will were drafted as “to my son James I leave all of my automobiles”, then James would receive the Chevrolet and the Jeep. Here again, a will form you find on the Internet may not avoid this pitfall.

  4. Financially well off individuals can make some pretty bad decisions even though they can afford legal advice. Here is an example about a well-to-do couple who had valid wills, free of the problems described above, because they went to their attorney to have their wills prepared. The couple was in their late sixties and had forgotten that thirty years ago they took furniture into Canada when they purchased a summer home there. They drove their car with a trailer on the back, staked with old furniture that each had inherited from their parents. At the Canadian border the border guards saw the property in the back of the trailer and told them they owed Canada a property tax of $87.00. The couple asked the border guards if there was a way to save the property tax. The border guard said that if they made Canada their residence and domicile, they could escape paying the property tax. “Domicile” means your permanent residence. Your permanent residence is where your will is to be probated. The couple’s permanent residence they thought was Maryland, however, they had signed documents at the border saying that Canada was their permanent residence/domicile. As a result, their estate, including real property in Maryland as well as personal property, would be probated in Canada. Fortunately, before the couple died, they went to their lawyer to update their wills and were advised by their lawyer to go to Canada and rescind the documents, pay the property tax, and thereby avoid the domicile problem. If they had not gone to an attorney but had prepared their wills using a form found on the Internet, this “domicile” problem may never have come to their attention!

Above are some examples of how using wills found on the Internet and signing them without consulting any attorney may result in unanticipated problems when the will is probated and direction of your property to unintended recipients.

When we provide estate planning advice and will preparation for our clients, we also offer additional legal services such as having our office prepare the following documents in addition to a last will and testament:

Power of Attorney, now called Personal Financial Power of Attorney (a major revision occurred in 2010)

Advance Medical Directive

Testamentary or Intervivos Trusts

Fred Antenberg has been advising clients and preparing wills for over 30 years in Howard County, Maryland, and the surrounding counties of Maryland and Baltimore City. Contact Fred for a free initial consultation by calling 410 730 4404.