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Should You Write Your Own Will?

Written by Nickel - 6 Comments

Should You Write Your Own Will?

Do you have a will? If not, why not? Sure, you might not have any kids, and you might not have much in the way of assets, but if you die without a will, the courts decide who gets what – and their decisions might not jive with your desires.

But lawyers are expensive, and there are now a variety of options for generating a do-it-yourself will on the cheap, so why not save a few bucks and use one of those?

Back in the day, my wife and I actually did just this… We used a copy of Nolo’s Willmaker (which has since been acquired by Intuit) to put together some very simple wills. To my untrained eye, they looked pretty solid, but lucky us, we never had to test them out.

Do it yourself estate planning?

So… Is writing your own will a good idea? Consumer Reports Money Advisor recently addressed this question by evaluating three of the most popular options for putting together a DIY will – LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Quicken Willmaker Plus. In short, they found that all three had some shortcomings.

To do this, they created wills for three different hypothetical profiles using each of these tools. They then sent the resulting wills to a law school professor for evaluation. The shortcomings that were identified included:

  • Outdated estate tax information
  • Insufficient detail when it comes to state-specific estate laws
  • Arbitrary age limits for trusts and the inability to set up conditional bequests
  • The ability to edit your will after it’s complete, or to create a special directives section, both of which could introduce inconsistencies and contradictions
  • The inability to create things like a special needs trust, or to address digital assets, pets, or compensation of your executor
  • An inability to handle certain tax issues

In short, while having a DIY will is better than nothing, none of these budget-minded solutions are perfect. The best option? Quicken Willmaker Plus, which was described as “competent – though far from ideal – for drawing up a simple will.”

Ultimately, you’ll probably be okay if your needs are along the lines of: If I die, my spouse gets everything, if he/she dies, I get it all, and if we both die, then Individual X (or Charity Y) gets everything. But if your needs are more complex, you’d be well advised to spend some time (and money) getting professional advice.

A few years ago, we broke down and had an attorney put together a proper estate plan, including our wills, a testamentary trust (for our kids), durable general powers of attorney, healthcare powers of attorney, and living wills.

While hiring an attorney cost a good bit more than Willmaker, it wasn’t terribly expensive, and we certainly sleep better at night knowing that we have a solid – and legally defensible – plan in place.

Source: CRMA via The Consumerist

Published on August 3rd, 2011
Modified on August 8th, 2011 - 6 Comments
Filed under: Planning

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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6 Responses to “Should You Write Your Own Will?”

  1. 1
    PC Says:

    Nickel,

    “few years ago, we broke down and had an attorney put together a proper estate plan, including our wills, a testamentary trust (for our kids), durable general powers of attorney, healthcare powers of attorney, and living wills.”

    Could you inform us as to roughly how much the attorney charged for all these ?

  2. 2
    Nickel Says:

    PC: I can’t recall, and I apparently didn’t pay by check, as I just searched Moneydance and couldn’t find it there. Sorry I can’t give a more specific answer. One thing that I’ve learned, though, is that attorney’s fees vary widely based on location, so my advice would be to call around and get some estimates.

  3. 3
    Crystal @ Master Your Card Says:

    We really are as simple as “spouse gets everything”, so I will have to look into those budget options!

  4. 4
    almost there Says:

    I understand that nolo press has some good will and estate books for the DIYer and they update them to keep current with the states.

  5. 5
    Evan Says:

    In addition to the problem of updated law, there is the practical experience of understanding the repercussions of one’s decision.

    A simple example I came across today:
    Second Marriage
    Both have children from previous marriage
    Leaving all assets to Spouse, outright

    What happens when the first spouse prematurely dies? Do you think second surviving spouse is going to keep those children from the marriage in the will? Sure maybe for the first 5 years? but what about 22 years later?

    (ONE POSSIBLE Answer: QTIP Trust)

  6. 6
    Peggy Says:

    I strongly advise checking your state’s individual laws regarding testacy and intestacy before drafting a will for yourself, just to be sure what requirements may be in place for self-drafted wills. Better to check ahead of time, and if you don’t understand the laws, hire a lawyer — some places where I am will do very basic wills for $100 or less.

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