We all know we need a will so that our affairs will be in order, children cared for, and our final wishes carried out once we have passed on. But did you know you have options when it comes to creating a will? You may have heard that you can actually do-it-yourself when it comes to creating a will, and it is fairly easy to accomplish online. There are a few considerations to make, however, before going this route.
In a survey, less than a third of adult Americans said they have a will. That's a huge problem. Dying without a properly prepared estate document like a will means the government decides what happens after you pass. That includes what happens to your children and how they are supported after the loss of both parents. DIY will making can be attractive, but there's important factors to keep in mind.
What Is a Do-It-Yourself Will?
Just as it sounds, a do-it-yourself will (or DIY will) is a last will that you create yourself, without the help of an attorney. In most cases, you utilize an online tool to download and print forms. Some services offer a DIY Will Writing Kit to help you craft a final document. Fill out the forms, upload your information and the online service will create your will.
Pros of a Do-It-Yourself Will
Pro #1: Avoids Lawyer Fees
There are, of course, costs associated with having an attorney help draw up your will. Some lawyers will charge a flat fee for creating wills, which can vary greatly - from a couple hundred dollars to a thousand or even more. Others may charge hourly. If this is the case, you can expect hourly rates of typically $150/hour and up. A legal service plan, sometimes offered as part of your work benefits, can cover some or all of this cost sometimes.
While you may still have to pay a fee to use online resources, taking a do-it-yourself approach is almost always initially a more cost-effective option. Keep reading for the other side of this though.
Pro #2: Saves Time
Creating a will using an online service can be a huge time saver upfront. If you have all the information ready, it can take a matter of minutes or an hour or two. You’re able to complete the entire process from the comfort of your home, and there’s no need to make an appointment, commute to an office and meet with an attorney face-to-face.
Cons of a Do-It-Yourself Will
Con #1: Could Cost Your Heirs Time & Money
Wills can be complicated - and you want to know that yours will stand up to scrutiny. When it comes to ensuring your estate is cared for and passed on in a way you’re comfortable with, having an airtight will is key. Any mistakes, misinformation or improper execution can end up costing your heirs time and money later down the line. If you're asking if DIY Kits are legal, the answer is yes. The document you produce with the service could be another question. It's possible that a portion or all of the document could fall short of your needs when your heirs settle your affairs.
If your estate must be probated because your will was improperly executed, this again could cost your heirs time and money before they’ll be able to receive or access their inheritance. Mistakes can still happen with traditional attorneys, but it's good to consider either way.
Con #2: State Laws Aren’t Always Considered
DIY Last Will and Testament services can vary on how state-specific laws are accounted for in your final document. This is important because laws and guidelines regarding estate settlement are heavily driven at the state level.
If you’re using an online site to complete your DIY will, sometimes state-specific regulations regarding the validity of a will are sufficient and sometimes not. For example, some states may require that your will be signed by multiple witnesses, while others require the seal of a public notary. Before thinking that simply printing your will is the final step, do some research into what your state requires.
Con #3: DIY Wills May Be Too Simple
If you’re particularly concerned about the tax burden your heirs will face upon your death, a DIY will may not offer the more sophisticated tax solutions needed. Additionally, a DIY will may not provide enough direction or specification regarding the future care of any minors currently dependent on you. Situations where you want to specify in detail how children are cared for in your absence are often not appropriate for a do it yourself solution. If you have children with special needs, then you most likely need a more nuanced approach that will require an attorney.
"Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun." Ecclesiastes 7:11 ESV
Who Could Benefit Most From a DIY Will?
Taking a do-it-yourself approach to your will means you will have no assistance from a licensed professional. If your estate is fairly large or complex, you may need the expertise of a qualified attorney. Additionally, if you have children, you need to know that your will depicts exactly how they should be cared for after your passing. If that’s the case, having an attorney involved can help make sure you’ve put the proper measures in place. If you don’t have any dependents, and your estate is fairly small, taking a DIY approach could be an option.
Don't Forget to Make Updates
Whatever approach your family takes, keep the plan up to date. Changing circumstances like additional children, guardian changes, and more can warrant changes in your will. Plan to revisit the terms of your will every so often or as events change to ensure this document serves your wishes.
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