If you value peace of mind, hiring a lawyer means all the t’s are crossed, and i’s are dotted, and you don’t have to worry about leaving your family with one big mess that needs to be cleaned up.
Are you thinking about creating a will without a lawyer? You’re not alone. Many people decide to write their own will to save time and money and to avoid costly fees and time-consuming drafting processes, but is it the right thing to do? Let’s find out.
Can you write a will without a lawyer?
First, it’s important to point out that there is no legal requirement to hire a lawyer when preparing your will. As long as your will meets your state’s legal requirements, it will be valid whether it was drafted by a lawyer or you scribbled it on the back of a napkin (don’t get any ideas).
These days, various online services offer a “do-it-yourself” will kit that gives you all the tools you need to plan, create, and update you whenever necessary. After all, the cost of hiring an attorney to review and draft your will averages between $100 to $400 per hour, and some estate attorneys charge up to $2,000 for a full estate plan. However, there are a few things you may want to consider before drafting your own will. Let’s take a look at a few below.
It’s hard to keep track of complex state laws
If you decide to write your own will and go the DIY route, you will need to have a firm understanding of the state laws in your area. Unfortunately, state laws surrounding wills and other forms of estate planning vary dramatically, so make sure you take the time to do your research before getting started. For example, a will that is written by hand may not require any witnesses, but only half of the states accept these wills as binding.
Furthermore, you must have a full grasp of the estate and inheritance tax in your state and how you plan for it to be handled once you have passed. At the time of writing, a total of six states enforce an inheritance tax, with around 12 states implementing an estate tax that gets paid on your overall assets. Hiring a lawyer frees you from the burden of the need to keep all of these bases covered.
You have to know how to “spell things out”
As we touched upon early, it’s entirely possible to draft a will on the back of a napkin, but we wouldn’t recommend it. When writing out your intentions, you have to be very precise, clearly stating who, how, and what you want to be distributed from your estate. This means that you must use the correct language when writing your will if you want the document to be taken seriously by the courts.
In general, you want to be as specific as possible, such as giving the full address of the property you want to leave in your will and complete descriptions of personal items and the full names of who you want to leave them to – not just “my wife” or “my son.” Doing this without a lawyer can be problematic since it’s very easy to make a mistake that may end up invalidating the entire document.
If your will is inadequate or unclear, it will go through probate
Probate is the judicial process whereby a will must be proved in court. This typically occurs when there is no will present or if the will isn’t clear or sufficient to act as a legal document. If you fail to write your will correctly and your estate goes into probate, it could be consumed by legal fees as relatives battle each other over a wide variety of issues in an attempt to claim your possessions and asses.
If you value peace of mind, hiring a lawyer means all the t’s are crossed, and i’s are dotted, and you don’t have to worry about leaving your family with one big mess that needs to be cleaned up – especially in a time that should be reserved for grieving. For the most part, hiring a lawyer is the best chance you have of making sure your final wishes are covered.
So should you write your will yourself or hire a lawyer to take care of it for you? Well, there is no right or wrong answer for this one; just make sure you know what you are in for before you go down the DIY route. With that said, you should take into consideration how complex your financial situation is. If you have a large estate with a multitude of expensive assets such as multiple properties or foreign possessions, then you should seek the assistance of a legal professional.
However, if you have a relatively simple estate and fully understand the state laws in your area, then it’s perfectly reasonable to draft a will yourself. Nevertheless, even if you decide to skip the lawyer, it’s well worth taking your will to a legal professional to get it checked over and verified to ensure that it will stand up in court and that your affairs are in place.