need to write a will, on the cheap
July 11, 2009 7:53 AM   Subscribe

can i write a valid, effective will without a lawyer? are there helpful, free models?
posted by LittlePumpkin to Law & Government (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The short answer is yes, under some circumstances. We used to do our own wills before we had kids and things got a bit more complicated. Nolo has great resources for understanding legal forms, figuring out if you can do them yourself, and then helping you do them. Many of their books are available in the library.
posted by not that girl at 8:12 AM on July 11, 2009

Depending on the State, your marital status, and your childness status, yes, you can use the NOLO books from Staples or the bookstore...otherwise, or if you are worried about it, it was only $200 for me to get a real professional lawyer to do the paperwork for me and I'm sure you can find someone cheaper as the guy I used is my dad's lawyer. Here in LA there's a place called Legal Grounds which is a coffee shop with a little lawyers office...check around, there may be someplace similar nearby.
posted by legotech at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2009

You don't say where you are. This is easy in the UK - you can get a "will pack" from the post office or any major stationers (e.g. WH Smiths).
posted by handee at 9:09 AM on July 11, 2009

The simplest, and cheapest, method of drafting a Last Will and Testament is the Holographic Will, in which you specify in your own HANDWRITING (no ink allowed on the page that did not get there by your hand... no inkjet printers or laser copies...) the disposition of your chattels. Requirements and acceptance statutes vary by state.

These become increasingly difficult, however, as the complexity of either your estate or its distribution increases. You are fully expected to express in writing ALL your wishes. Anything left out may or may not be dealt with by the probate court, and may or may not become the property of the State, unless you have a very simple instruction for the court, such as "I hereby bequeath all my Worldly Possessions to my wife."

Complex instructions CAN be executed in a Holographic Will, but the key is specificity. YOU have to think of everything and YOU have to write it all down very clearly. And if ANYTHING changes about those specifics, you have to redraft the entire will.

posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 9:25 AM on July 11, 2009

Yes, you can. The bigger question is whether you should. Do you have any dependents? Do you own any real property? How much personal property do you own? Do you have life insurance? The problem with wills written by laymen is they often have serious errors in them that cause problems when that person dies. If a lawyer-drafted will has a serious error, then the heirs can sometimes sue the lawyer, so at least there's some recourse.
posted by Happydaz at 9:36 AM on July 11, 2009

My Trusts & Estates prof. always warmly recommended Quicken Willmaker for simple estate planning.

If you're in the US, your state's wills or trusts statute may have some standard forms or language which you can use.

But, honestly, there really is no substitute for having a trusts & estates lawyer just do it for you. Like legotech points out, if your planning needs aren't complex, it's really not that expensive to have a lawyer to write one up for you, and you'll get the bonus of having someone counsel you on your own, particular situation.
posted by ailouros08 at 10:08 AM on July 11, 2009

My law firm has made a lot of money cleaning up the estates of people who drafted their own wills. A will is cheap, and by paying a lawyer to draft it, you are buying his/her malpractice insurance.
posted by HotToddy at 10:33 AM on July 11, 2009

You can certainly write a valid will that will be enforced by the courts without the assistance of a lawyer. That's easy. Just say where you want stuff to go, and it will--with few exceptions--go there.

What's hard is 1) avoiding the few things that you aren't allowed to do, which vary by state, and 2) dealing with your tax situation. The latter is far and away the most important consideration. It may be the case that your will winds up costing your estate a considerable amount because you didn't have professional counsel when you drafted it, and you did things in a way which expose you to tax liability.

Right now we're in a bit of an odd situation, because the first $3.5 million of an estate is exempt from taxation this year, and next year the entire estate is exempt, but unless Congress acts to make the moratorium permanent, estate taxes jump back to their 2001 level in 2011. Which the prevailing wisdom says will happen just as soon as hell freezes over. Thus, unless you're planning on dying in the next year and a half, it thus makes sense to plan for the rather onerous federal estate taxes to be in full force. Meaning it would be in your best interest to consult a lawyer in dealing with this.
posted by valkyryn at 10:53 AM on July 11, 2009

posted by charlesv at 11:46 AM on July 11, 2009

Best answer: The folklore that I've heard among estates lawyers is that either you can pay a relatively small amount now or your heirs can pay multiples of that later. The cost of a basic will is very low and the cost of messing it up can be very high after the fact.

Wills get more expensive when your situation is more complicated, but any complication suggests you will need expert guidance.
posted by Hali at 3:20 PM on July 11, 2009

Response by poster: thanks everyone - helpful counsel!
posted by LittlePumpkin at 6:49 AM on July 15, 2009

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