Tales from the World of DIY Planning - February 15, 2017

The following is based on a true story with names and particulars changed to preserve client confidentiality.

Marissa helped her mother draft a will she got from an online do-it-yourself service.  Marissa's mother was married to Marissa's step-father.  Marissa's mother left her house to Marissa using the following words:

I leave my home at 123 Elm Street, San Jose, California 95123 to:
husband = one half; daughter = one half of home

After the death of her mother, Marissa's step father interpreted the language above to mean that he gets 1/2 of his deceased wife's interest in the house.  Marissa was 100% certain that what her mother meant was that the husband already owned 1/2 of the house and that Marissa was to receive her mother's half of the house.

The result was a 6-hour mediation.  The mediation included attorney's fees.  Marissa alone paid three times the cost of a typical foundational estate plan (living trust, will, power of attorney, advance health care directive) in attorney's fees.  Add on top of that, the attorney's fees paid by the opposing party, and it is clear that the DIY option was very expensive in this case.

One can safely assume that when she signed her form will, Marissa's mother thought her wishes were very clear, and that her estate was simple.  So, she probably reasoned, no lawyer was needed.  The fact that she created a will shows that she cared about her daughter's well-being after the mother's death.  Not only did Marissa's daughter have to spend thousands of dollars on an attorney, but she also had to endure a fair amount of stress.  Because the adversarial legal process is naturally stressful.

Had she known then what we know now, it is safe to assume that she would have sought an experienced estate planning lawyer to assist her with her needs.