The Risk of DIY Planning

Free Texas Will Forms

by Rania Combs

Estate planning is as important for small estates as for large ones.

We all have the potential of becoming incapacitated. Therefore, having documents in place that allows trusted individuals to make medical decisions for you, manage your financial affairs, and engage in disability planning for you during your incapacity is crucial.

Additionally, without proper planning, your property may not pass as intended or may pass in a manner that is more costly or cumbersome than necessary. 

Texas Supreme Court Creates DIY Will Forms

Ideally, everyone would engage a lawyer for their estate planning needs because a lawyer can evaluate your estate planning goals and advise you on precisely how to achieve them.

But the reality of the matter is that many Texans do not have the financial resources to hire an attorney. And they need just a simple Will to transfer property to their beneficiaries.

To meet the needs of these individuals, the Texas Legislature in 2015 directed the Texas Supreme Court to create simple Texas will forms with instructions for single and married Texans with no children, adult children, and minor children. On May 5, 2023, the court issued the final English and bilingual versions of the forms for use.

There are several forms available, depending on your situation. For example, one form is geared toward people who are single, widowed, or divorced and have no children. Another is for people who are single, widowed, or divorced and have children.

You can see the forms by clicking on the following link: Texas Will Forms.

Advantages of Texas Will Forms for Texans with Limited Resources

First, the Texas will forms are free.

Also, unlike online DIY will solutions for which you pay a fee, the Texas will forms are state-specific and contain detailed instructions on how to complete the forms in a manner that Texas requires for a will to be valid. If you fill out the forms and follow all the instructions provided carefully, you will have created a valid Texas will.

Other Free Resources for Texans who Can’t Afford an Estate Planning Attorney

Texas Law Help, a website for low-income Texans, provides free, reliable information regarding a number of practice areas. The website’s Wills and Estate Planning Section now includes links to the free Texas forms approved by the Supreme Court. It also includes information about how to create a Texas holographic will, along with a sample of what it should look like.

Should I Use Free Texas Will Forms?

There are many situations in which it would be inadvisable to use the DIY will forms.

If your estate planning needs are complex, the value of your estate is more than nominal, you are part of a blended family, or you have beneficiaries who are minors or who are receiving government benefits such as SSI and Medicaid, you should seek professional legal advice to ensure that your will properly addresses all relevant legal considerations.

Additionally, the free will forms contemplate common scenarios that may not be applicable in your situation. For example, the form created for single people with children assume you would want to give your estate to your children equally. If you do not intend to distribute property to your children equally, or perhaps would prefer distribute your property to other beneficiaries, you should seek professional legal advice.

Additionally, it is also a good idea to have a formal will prepared by an attorney if you anticipate disputes among your heirs or believe that someone will likely contest the validity of your will.

A Caveat: The Value of Legal Advice

Individual circumstances have a huge impact on what kind of provisions you need in your will. Language that may further one person’s goals and objectives may be disastrous for another. In other words, a will may be valid but may not accomplish your estate planning goals.

For example, if you are married with no children, naming your new spouse the sole beneficiary of your entire estate would be reasonable. However, if you are part of a blended family and have children from a previous marriage, giving your estate to your new spouse outright may end up disinheriting your children. For a specific example of how this can happen, read Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Mistake Disinherits Child.

Perhaps you’d like to name your children as beneficiaries of your estate. It may not be problematic to give them your estate outright if they are responsible and financially stable adults. However, if your children are still minors, doing so might trigger the need for a guardianship, which may be costly. Or it may give young adult beneficiaries access to funds before they have the wisdom or maturity to manage them wisely. Making an outright distribution to a beneficiary is has special needs can be even more problematic. Doing so may prevent them from receiving any means-tested benefits until the inheritance is spent down.

Consideration of factors like this influence whether your estate planning documents will actually accomplish your goals.

An Estate Plan is More than Just a Will

Using a free Texas will form will and carefully following the instructions provided will ensure your Will is valid. However, simply having a Will may not accomplish your estate planning goals.

I speak to Texans every week who say they want to get a will so their families can avoid probate. Wills in and of themselves do not avoid probate. It’s only after the will has been admitted to probate that it will have any legal effect. An attorney can help explain your options if probate avoidance is your goal.

Besides planning for what happens to your property after you die, it’s important to appoint trusted individuals who can make medical decisions for you or manage your financial affairs during a period of incapacity. An executor named in a Will can settle your estate after you die, but has no authority to act while you are living. Powers of attorney give agents to act on your behalf while you are living but otherwise incapable of handling those tasks for yourself. An attorney can create powers of attorney that give your agents sufficient authority to step in when you need them to.

A False Sense of Security

The problem with DIY will forms is that they create a false sense of security. The documents you create with DIY forms may cost nothing up front, look good, and have impressive language. But if they don’t work for your unique circumstances, they are completely worthless. Unfortunately, problems will likely not become apparent until after you die. And the people left to deal with the costly mistakes are likely the people you’re preparing your will to protect.

An estate planning attorney can help you evaluate all your options. We use our years of schooling and experience to analyze your unique circumstances, advise you on the best way to accomplish your goals, explain the ramifications of your choices, and tailor your estate planning documents to address your unique estate planning needs.

DIY Will forms will never be a substitute for the advice of an attorney. And in some situations, they can create more problems than they solve. They may be adequate for the simplest of needs, but in reality, most people would benefit from the advice of an attorney.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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