Assuming Risk of DIY Estate Planning

(The Dallas Morning News) - You can build an airplane all by yourself. Buy a kit or go online and download the instructions. A mere 1,400 work hours later, you should have a flying machine ready to carry you and your family into the wild blue yonder.

Aside from crashing and burning, what could possibly go wrong?

You can also do your own estate planning. Buy a set of forms or go online, download the documents, fill in the blanks and sign as indicated. A mere three work hours later, you should have documents ready to carry you through personal emergencies, sickness, dementia and death.

Aside from fiduciary theft, exploitation, guardianship, contested probate proceedings and having your wishes completely disregarded, what could possibly go wrong?

We will find out. The Texas Supreme Court has just created do-it-yourself will forms.

More specifically, the court has approved four forms, categorized by type of personal situation: single with children, single without children, married with children and married without children. These are fill-in-the-blank documents. They come complete with definitions and instructions.

The forms apply to only the most straightforward of situations. For example, the form for “single with children” presumes that you are currently single, have children and that, except for specified gifts, want to leave everything to your children in equal shares. If you want an estate plan that is more complicated, then this form is not for you.

The instructions are equally straightforward. If you make a mistake while filling in the will form, then you are instructed to rip it up and start all over again. You are instructed to fill in the information blanks either on the computer or by hand using the same pen to fill in the full form. There are several places in the form where you are directed not to “add, change or delete any words in Section …” with the explanation that the section is “needed for legal reasons.”

The legal reasons, unfortunately, are not explained in the document. You are left to do your own research.

The form contains only basic provisions, and there is no place to add anything else. Still, they are an improvement over what you usually find online, because the court’s forms contain Texas-required language to appoint an independent executor, self-prove your will and leave your entire probate estate to your named beneficiaries.

Fill it out accurately, follow the instructions and you should end up with a valid will, one that contains the bare minimum of language, and probably adequate if you have little or no estate and no family complications.

The forms can be found on the Texas Supreme Court’s website under Administrative Orders, Rules Advisories, 2023, Order 23-9022. The order was released on May 5, 2023.

If you are looking for other DIY planning forms, then visit There you will find basic information on common legal issues and bare-bones forms for such things as powers of attorney and directive to physicians.

While you are researching and looking at forms, heed the warnings. The online documents are not a substitute for legal advice. They are suitable for only the simplest of estates and family situations.

You probably would never attempt to build your own plane. Even if you had the time, you likely lack the skill and knowledge. The price of failure is too high. Drafting your own estate planning documents is the same. You don’t want to crash and burn.

By Virginia Hammerle
May 28, 2023

Attorney Virginia Hammerle has been board-certified in civil trial law for 25 years. Her practice includes estate planning, guardianship, probate and litigation.

Virginia Hammerle, LegalTalk Texas Weekly Columnist. Virginia formed Hammerle Finley Law Firm in 1984. She has been Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 1995. She is a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, and has been named a Texas SuperLawyer from 2012 through 2019.


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