It's time for the partner and I to set up wills. I need clarification about what we might need, and recommendations about what software to use.
November 9, 2006 10:53 AM   Subscribe

It's time for the partner and I to set up wills. We've never done this before, and our "estates" aren't worth the cost of going to a lawyer. I need clarification about what we might need, and recommendations about what software to use.

I have seen this and this.

We're both in our mid-twenties, in Philadelphia, PA, not married (what with the gay), and don't have any assets to speak of besides some very small retirement accounts. We're both in decent enough health.

What we want is a document that defines who gets what in terms of any property and money if the other passes away, as well as document that says who gets to decide to "pull the plug" and make the funeral (or whatever) arrangements for the other.

Since we're not married, we don't automatically have these kinds of "death bed" rights, and we want to make sure we have the proper documents to ensure we get them if we should ever need them.

I think that we need both a will and testament and a living will, but I'm not positive.

Is there any software out there that will help us create a will and a living will if it turns out that's what we need?

Thanks for any input!

I appreciate it, but please don't tell us to just see a lawyer. The finances just don't make that possible right now.
posted by misanthropicsarah to Law & Government (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Check here for some advice from Nolo Press, which is a well-regarded publisher of do-it-yourself legal forms. It looks like they recommend Quicken WillMaker Plus, which seems to do both living and traditional wills.

(I don't work for Nolo, I've just heard good things)
posted by thewittyname at 10:58 AM on November 9, 2006

You'll need a durable power of attorney for health care.
posted by Ruki at 11:21 AM on November 9, 2006

Also, these forms can be found here. Copy and paste as needed.
posted by Ruki at 11:23 AM on November 9, 2006

Getting your wills done by a lawyer might cost you less than you think (my husband and I paid $500 for wills, power of attorney, and living wills), they can potentially last you the rest of your life, and could help the surviving partner avoid unpleasantness. Forgive the derail, but I really think going to a lawyer could be a good idea.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:26 AM on November 9, 2006

IANAL, but I used to volunteer for the legal information hotline at GLAD (the organization that won the Massachusetts gay marriage case). I took at least one call a day from glbt couples who wanted to set up wills. While I'm not familiar with Pennsyvania law (GLAD only serves New England), I can tell you that establishing wills and doing estate planning for glbt couples is extremely difficult because many of the transfers that occur automatically for straight couples are contested in situations involving glbt people. For a partial list of such complications, see here.

I understand that you don't want to be told to see a lawyer, but it really is something you need to consider in the long term, especially if you have any reason to believe that a family member may contest a decision made by your partner to "pull the plug" or whatnot. (There have been a frightening number of cases in which living wills giving power to the partner were insufficent to override the wishes of the incapacitated person's family, who are given precedence in many states.) Some glbt lawyers will do this sort of work on a sliding scale basis; your local glbt community center may be able to refer you to such people.

Besides seeing a lawyer, I just advise you to be extrememly careful about using "make your own will" computer programs and books. These are not written with the special needs of glbt people in mind and subsequently will likely not survive legal challenges. Nolo, mentioned above, also makes a book for glbt couples, but I think it's inadequate.
posted by chickletworks at 11:31 AM on November 9, 2006

It looks like there's an organization in Pennsylvania that provides a legal information hotline for glbt couples. You should definitely call-- they won't be able to do your will over the phone or anything, but they can answer any specific questions you run into once you start writing the will and they may be able to refer you to an affordable attorney.
posted by chickletworks at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2006

Okay, one more then I promise I'll quit!

Here is a list of the documents you'll need in Pennsylvania.
posted by chickletworks at 11:48 AM on November 9, 2006

If either of you work for a mid-to-large sized company, check whether legal assistance is offered as a benefit. It's a perk that's often forgotten after your orientation day. My organization, for instance, sponsors an Employee Assistance Program that offers Dependent Care Assistance and Legal Services. As described by HR:
The Legal services program is a resource and referral service that provides both telephone and face-to-face legal consultation. It includes a telephone consultation with an attorney at no charge, a referral to a local attorney with the first 30 minutes at no charge, and a 25% fee reduction for subsequent services.
That would be at least my first step, in your situation.
posted by timepiece at 12:42 PM on November 9, 2006

We just finished using Suze Orman's Will and Trust kit - it was cheap and covered everything we needed (will, revocable trust, advanced directive & durable power of attorney, financial power of attorney). It has over 50 forms and is good in all 50 states. It's only $13.50
posted by LadyBonita at 1:22 PM on November 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

As far as solely transferring and disposing of property, almost all states (though I would check on the Pennsylvania laws) explicitly allow holographic wills to be admitted to probate. That is to say, a will that's been written by your own hand. If it is handwritten and signed by you, and passes three general tests: there's evidence you created the will (i.e. it's definitely your handwriting), you were intellectually able to write the will (though this is presumed unless there's some reason to believe you weren't), and it contains instructions for distributing the estate, then it should be admitted to probate court without a lot of trouble.

Probate courts and probate laws tend to be designed explicitly to make it possible for a non-lawyer to dispose of their own property after death, and it's not out of scope for a will to dictate funeral arrangements and provide for the cost from the estate. However, many of the other processes you referred to -- namely anything that needs to be done while somebody remains alive -- are carried out under different legal structures that aren't so forgiving.

It may be wise to get help from an attorney in constructing a power of attorney and living will documentation that will work. But until your situation makes that possible, you can consider a DIY solution just to take care of the estate. It won't be as iron-clad as a will with a self-proving affidavit, but it's far more likely to have your wishes carried out than a verbal agreement.

There's some good general information on wills, trusts, and probate in common law on Wikipedia.
posted by taber at 3:34 AM on November 10, 2006

There's a lot of good information here, and I understand your desire for the thread not to degenerate into "see a lawyer" ad nauseum. So let me applaud your desire to do some estate planning, lawyered or not, and then don't yell at me when I also suggest that you commit to hiring to an attorney when your finances allow.

My recommendation is, if you're going to go the DIY route, don't rely on software, kits, or anything. Some books and templates will be helpful and even necessary, but what will really matter is you and your partner taking the time to research and put some work into the document. My parents, who are bright, reasonably tech-savvy people with advanced degrees in chemistry, and who have wills, an attorney, and sufficient time and finances to visit and pay him, used a Suze Orman kit to draw up some durable powers of attorney and living wills. And they left all the instructions in the created document so that it looked like:
"[paragraph of instructions] I, [insert name here] averyoldworld's dad, do hereby... "

The reasons to get an attorney down the line to shore up your planning are the same reasons to be skeptical of anything that makes the process seem easy: there are plenty of gotchas. Fun experiment - look closely in the eyes of a lawyer you know and say "rule against perpetuities," and watch them die a little inside. I suspect that the complicated stuff, whether it's likely to apply to them or not, is where people tend to coast and rely on software or boilerplate from a library book to get them by, and I also suspect that it's a recipe for tears.

In particular, you want to pay attention to how Pennsylvania handles simultaneous deaths, the rule against perpetuities, execution of the wills (witnesses, self-proving affidavits, attestation clauses), codicils, and revocations. If you contact me off-list, I can point you to a book that covers many of these features in some detail, along with some best practices (on how to conduct will signings, for instance). Try to find a practitioner's guide specific to PA, for example, and look up the relevant statutes where feasible. has links to state statutes.

The other thing that you really need to do is for each of you to talk with your families (if you have them). There is no such thing as a bulletproof will during a will contest. The institutional competence of courts in understanding family relations is generally no great shakes. Courts still balk when dealing with, you know, Anna Nicole Smith. Take chickletworks' comments to heart. Your planning is going to vary greatly depending on whether you can rely on your parents to respect your wishes or whether they'll contest a will or one of the other documents you have in mind. You have to ask some really hard questions on how they feel about: organ donation; custody or guardianship of any children (even if you have no plans to have or adopt any); funeral arrangements? You need to know if their feelings would change if you suddenly became wealthy. You get the idea - get a good sense of the possible friction points, and plan as best you can.

It might sound a bit overwhelming, but if you take the rigorous approach, you'll likely come up with something much sounder than anything software or a book will give you. After all, you care much more about your will than Suze Orman does (and she seems like a pretty nice lady).
posted by averyoldworld at 4:59 PM on November 10, 2006

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