Trust Planning

Trust Planning

Estate Planning and Wealth Management

Can I Write My Own Will?

According to Nolo, “Yes, you can.” You can write your own will. At least most people can. And Nolo maintains—through their software, their website and their books—that, in most cases, you don't need a lawyer at all. I tend to agree with them. It is better to have a simple will, one that expresses your desires, names your beneficiaries and covers most likely situations, than no will at all. You can always update your will later.

However, according to Consumer Reports and the estate lawyer they consulted in a blind test of estate planning software (including the Quicken/Nolo software), if there are any complications (as we said, digital rights, unusual state law, tricky trusts) then you will need a lawyer to finish things up. But CR recommends that you use the estate planning software to learn the ropes and see what you might be forgetting. To be fair, it would be hard to find a lawyer that would think of all the things CR's lawyer thought of. If you find one, let's list them on this site!

Here is the Consumer Reports article on writing your own will and their evaluation of estate planning software.

Consider this situations: an individual was updating their will, and because of their individual situation, they had the choice of three states to use as the address on their will. In order to simplify things, the lawyer suggested one state over the others. Estate planning software could not have helped with this decision: a lawyer with knowledge and experience in each of these three states was required. It turned out that writing the will was easier, and the process after death simpler (specifically the choice of an executor) in this particular state. However, if person writing their will had a very large amount of money (they didn't) and had wanted to give a lot of it to a non-family member (they didn't), then this would not have been the state to choose. So, a good lawyer (if you can find one) can be helpful. They may think of things you could never have thought of.

But wait, there's more... the will that had been written by the lawyer, based on the intentions of the family member, was found upon review to have gaping holes. In addition to making the job of the executor unnecessarily difficult (see the article on this site), it didn't cover the eventualities of this individual surviving their children, or if everyone in the family died.

So you have to educate yourself. Nolo does a good job in their estate planning software package. The CD that describes estate planning is only about an hour. Listen to it a couple of times in your car. It won't take any time out of your day, and you will be empowered to make good decisions and take charge of your lawyer, if you use one.