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Friday, October 8, 2021

Relying on non-lawyers to prepare your will may save a few $ now but comes back to bite your wallet later

I'm going to tell you a story. A true one. About 20 years ago, a mother and father wanted to do their wills. One of their daughters had recently obtained a diploma as a legal assistant and convinced her parents that she could prepare a will as well as any lawyer. They decided to save a few dollars by having the daughter do the wills, and the wills were prepared and signed. Ten years later, the father died and the mother did a new will, this time with a lawyer, and another 8 years later she did a third one, again with a lawyer. The two later wills left a smaller share of the estate to the said daughter.

The mother passed away recently and the daughter who prepared the first will came forward to contest the second and third will. She insisted that the first will - the one she prepared for her parents - was a mutual will that could not be revoked by her mother. She began a lawsuit based on the concept that she, as the will preparer, understood that the wills were meant to be mutual. If they were mutual wills, she would be correct in that they could not be revoked by one party after the other one died. However, there is absolutely nothing in the wills of the parents to indicate they were mutual. 

This person, who persuaded her parents they didn't need a lawyer, is now responsible for a huge legal mess. Were they mutual wills? If so, why were they not prepared as such? Can the daughter be held responsible since she persuaded her parents she was skilled at will preparation? Did she understand what mutual wills meant, or didn't she? If they are not mutual wills, the daughter is simply challenging not one but two wills she does not like because she gets less under the estate.

Either way, the executor of the second and third wills is spending the parents' money to defend the two wills. The legal bills are already well past what it would have cost to hire a lawyer in the first place to make proper wills, and they are just getting started.

This is a new story, but also an old one. It has happened thousands of times that people who think they are saving a buck rely on legal assistants, financial advisors, or even insurance salesmen to prepare wills for them. Here is the spoiler ending: in the long run, they didn't save a cent. In fact, they lost big time. There's a saying that if you don't have a will, the lawyers are your heirs. That's also true if you rely on the wrong people for legal advice.

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