How to Create a Valid Will in Louisiana

Due to the current pandemic, many Americans are realizing the importance of creating or updating their estate planning documents. With the extension of some states’ stay in place orders, it may be tempting to create your own documents all on your own. Whether you are considering writing your own will or using an online “do it yourself” (DIY) document creator, there are many reasons why this is one project you shouldn’t undertake without the help of a professional.

What is a DIY estate plan?

A DIY (“Do It Yourself”)  estate plan is one that you create without the advice of an estate planning attorney. Someone who DIYs their own legal documents could be:

A.    Handwriting a “will” themselves;

B.    Downloading a “fill in the blank” document that they got on the internet; or

C.    Using an online document generator that asks pre-set questions.

Below are five common mistakes we see with DIY estate plans.

1.   DIY estate plans may not conform to the applicable law

Forms from the internet may claim to conform to Louisiana law, but this is usually not the case. Louisiana’s laws of inheritance are unlike those of any other state. For instance, we have forced heirship, which limits a parent’s ability to disinherit a child, and many other provisions unique to our state. In addition, if you own property in another state or country, the laws in those jurisdictions may differ significantly, and your DIY estate plan may not adequately account for them.

2.   A DIY estate plan could contain inaccurate, incomplete, or contradictory information

When you use an online questionnaire to create your will, there is the possibility that you may select the wrong option or leave out important information that could prevent your will from accomplishing your goals. Potential problems could be made even worse when do-it-yourself services allow users to insert additional information not addressed by the service’s preset questionnaire: the information you add could contradict other parts of the automated will.

3.   Your DIY estate plan may not account for changing life circumstances

For example, if you create a will in which you leave everything to your two children, what happens if one of those children dies before you? Will that child’s share go entirely to his or her sibling—or will it go to the child’s offspring? What if one of your children accumulates a lot of debt? Is it okay with you if the money or property the indebted child inherits is vulnerable to claims of the child’s creditors? What if your will states your daughter will receive the family home as her only inheritance, but it is sold shortly before you die? Will she inherit nothing? An experienced estate planning attorney, as opposed to a computer program, will help you think through the potential changes and contingencies that could have an impact on your estate plan– and help you design a plan that prevents unintended results that could frustrate your estate planning goals.

4.   It’s easy to make mistakes in executing the plan

Under Louisiana law, there are certain formal requirements that must be met for wills and other estate planning documents to be legally valid. For example, a will typically requires the signatures of a notary and two witnesses, but state law differs regarding what is necessary for a will to be validly witnessed. For example, Louisiana requires not only that the will be signed by the will-maker in front of a notary and two witnesses, but also requires that they all sign the will in each other’s presence. In other states, witnesses are not required to be in the same room when the will-maker signs the will, and they can even sign it later if the will-maker tells them his or her signature is valid.

Similarly, for a valid power of attorney, some states require only the signature of the principal (the person who is granting the power of attorney) to be notarized, but some states require the signatures of both the principal and the agent (the person who will act on behalf of the principal) to be notarized. In other states, one or more witnesses are required—and these requirements may also differ depending upon the type of power of attorney (financial vs. medical) you are trying to execute. If you seek the help of an estate planning attorney, you can rest assured that all of the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed, and that your intentions will not be defeated because of mistakes made during the execution of your documents.

5.   Assets may be left out of your estate plan

Many people do not realize that a trust is frequently a better estate planning tool than a will because it avoids expensive, time-consuming, and public court proceedings that would otherwise be necessary to transfer your money and property to your heirs after you pass away. Even if you have created a DIY trust, if you do not “fund it” (i.e., transfer title of your money and property into the name of the trust) it will be ineffective and your loved ones will still have to endure the probate process to finish what you started.

Further, if you do initially transfer the title of all your assets to the trust, it is likely you will acquire additional property or financial accounts over the years that must go through probate if the titles are not transferred to the trust. Regular meetings with an estate planning attorney can help ensure that your plan accomplishes your goals and that your grieving family members are not left with major headaches after you die.

We Can Help

A DIY estate plan can lead to a false sense of security because it may not achieve what you think it does. If your DIY will is not valid, your property and money will go to heirs specified by state law—who may not be the people you would have chosen. An unfunded trust will be ineffective. Banks may not accept a generic power of attorney you found on the internet. Laws affecting your estate plan may change.

These are just some of the mistakes or unforeseen issues that could cost your family dearly. An experienced estate planning attorney is aware of any trends in the law that could dramatically affect your estate plan and has the expertise needed to help you design and create a comprehensive plan.

Call us today so we can help provide you and your family with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have an estate plan that accomplishes your goals and will avoid unnecessary attorneys’ fees, headaches, or conflict for your grieving family when you pass away.

You can click here to book a free Family Wealth Planning Session with one of our attorneys today.