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Part 8 – The Value of Hiring a Lawyer for Estate Planning Over DIY Wills

As we have discussed in our previous blogs, estate planning is a crucial aspect of securing your legacy and ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes. While many people may be tempted to create a do-it-yourself (DIY) will as a seemingly cost-effective and quick solution, this approach often falls short of the comprehensive protection and guidance that hiring a lawyer can provide. In this blog, we’ll delve into the advantages of seeking professional legal assistance for estate planning and why it’s a wise investment for both your future and the future of your beneficiaries.

The Risks of a DIY Estate Plan

It’s important to recognize that one of the often-overlooked benefits of DIY wills is that, at the very least, you have a will in place (assuming it is clear of intention and properly-executed). According to a 2023 report by the National Institute on Ageing and the Royal Bank of Canada, less than 48% of Canadians have wills, and even fewer have comprehensive estate plans. The report underscores that one of the primary reasons for this deficiency is that many people are unsure of how to begin the estate planning process. While a DIY will may seem like a quick and easy solution, DIY will kits themselves can be confusing and can result in more questions than answers for many people attempting to navigate them.  We have often had people come to us, admitting that they tried to start a DIY will kit, but became confused and gave up. Lawyers are well-prepared to bridge the knowledge gap, providing tailored advice to ensure your estate plan aligns with your unique circumstances and wishes.

One of the central advantages of involving a lawyer in your estate planning is its long-term cost-effectiveness. While DIY will kits may appear budget-friendly at first glance, they often lack the depth and detail necessary for a legally sound will. An experienced estates lawyer can provide the clarity needed to ensure your intended distribution is precise and free from ambiguities. As we discussed in our previous blog, “Testamentary Capacity and Undue Influence,” courts are becoming increasingly hesitant to compel estates to reimburse unsuccessful litigants for their legal costs. However, when litigation arises due to errors or uncertainties in a will, it’s more likely that the estate will be required to cover these costs. Such mistakes or ambiguities in the document can lead to expensive legal battles, potentially eroding the value of your estate far beyond the initial cost of consulting a lawyer.

Avoiding Unintended Consequences

In addition to the risk of depleting your assets due to unclear instructions, unclear terms in your will may lead to unintended asset distribution. When interpreting wills, Ontario courts try to determine the will maker’s intent. However, the courts will void any portion of the will they are unable to decipher. For instance, a clause like “I give everything I own to my friend, John, to give to my kids as he and I discussed” may be problematic. A court might void the unclear part, “to give to my kids as he and I discussed,” leaving only “I give everything I own to my friend, John,” potentially entitling John to the entire estate. Experienced estate lawyers can provide safeguards by ensuring your will is drafted in a manner that will ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Lawyers also bring efficiency to the estate planning process, guiding you through various aspects beyond just asset distribution. DIY wills typically address only one aspect of estate planning, the will, overlooking essential elements like tax minimization, cost reduction, and legacy protection. Professionals ensure that your will covers all relevant aspects and adheres to legal requirements.

Ensuring Legal Compliance

Furthermore, Ontario law has stringent requirements for the execution of wills, which DIY wills may not meet, potentially rendering them invalid. While Section 21.1 of the Succession Law Reform Act has offered some flexibility with regard to execution requirements, legal guidance ensures full compliance with the law.

Lastly, involving a lawyer ensures meticulous legal documentation regarding testamentary capacity and undue influence during the will creation process. These notes are invaluable in upholding the validity of your will, protecting it from challenges, and ensuring your precise wishes are carried out.

Takeaways

Although the immediate appeal of a DIY will may be its lower upfront cost and sometimes quicker creation, it often results in delays, complications, ambiguity, missed opportunities for tax minimization and unintended consequences that can be far more costly in the long run. Hiring a lawyer for estate planning offers numerous benefits, including cost-effectiveness, expertise, and the assurance that your will is legally sound and comprehensive. It safeguards your legacy and ensures your wishes are carried out precisely as you intended. When it comes to estate planning, investing in professional legal guidance is undoubtedly the most prudent choice.