The number of legal forms available on the internet has grown significantly in the past few years, and as a result more and more people are beginning to use them without fully understanding their force and effect. While many people may not realize it, there are risks associated with using these forms without the benefit of an attorney’s assistance.
When our attorneys meet with clients and potential clients to discuss and prepare their estate plans, our clients have occasionally brought in old forms that they pulled from the internet and completed on their own. Because these forms are not specifically tailored to the client and their intent, they can easily lead to unintended and unfortunate results. In one case, the form provided for a final distribution of their estate that was contrary to their intent. In another case, the client had used a form to create a will that was not valid because it had not been signed as required by Illinois Compiled Statutes, in addition to being a form for the State of Arizona and not Illinois.
Similarly, when our attorneys meet with clients to discuss transfers of real estate, they sometimes find that the client found and printed off their own quit claim deeds from the internet or recorder of deed’s office. While useful tools, these documents are not certain to accomplish what you want them to do: in one case, the client’s form deed successfully conveyed the property to themselves as husband and wife, but failed to include the necessary joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety language. If left uncorrected, the effect of this transfer would have been that upon the death of the first spouse, the property would not have passed to the surviving spouse under operation of law as the clients had wanted, but rather would have passed to the deceased spouse’s testamentary beneficiaries. Similarly, our attorneys have found situations where clients have deeded property to themselves in joint tenancy with a family member in order to avoid probate, but later changed their mind and wanted to let the property pass through their will; however, because the transfer created an ownership interest and vested it with the family member, the client’s desires were at that family member’s mercy.
Form documents are useful tools that can be dangerous if used incorrectly. In the short run, these form documents may be less expensive than hiring an attorney, but in the long run they may end up costing you far more if they need to be corrected later on. The attorneys at Spesia & Ayers can work with you to ensure that the Estate Planning and Real Estate Planning documents reflect your intentions and protect your interest in your assets.