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Do-It-Yourself Wills and Trusts

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I don’t have a will and I’ve done zero estate planning. That being said, it’s a situation I plan to remedy so this recent NY Times article about do-it-yourself wills and trusts was pretty timely. The one important thing I learned about wills and trusts were that they are considered private documents, which means they are valid in all fifty states even if you don’t hire a lawyer to draft them. From my interpretation, it sounds like it’s not an agreement but more a unilateral statement so it’s not necessary to have a lawyer draft it up (especially with how expensive they are).

NY Times identified several services and software packages:

  • Quicken WillMaker Plus – $37.99 (after a $10 rebate, valid until 5/31/08), despite the Quicken name it’s produced by Nolo, which makes great legalese-translated-into-english books, and it bills itself as “So comprehensive, the software assembles your forms from among 40,000 document possibilities–but so easy to use, you’ll have them finished in minutes.” If you want a copy, I recommend checking out eBay as there were several cheap copies available there.
  • LegalZoom – ~$70, you fill out an online form, they review it and turn it into a will. For $219, you can get a living will.
  • We the People – This is a storefront franchise that helps people fill out forms, $99 for a will, $399-$499 for a living trust.
  • Suze Orman’s Will and Trust Kit – $13.57 gets you an “easy-to-use and fast way for you and other members of your household to create your own will, living revocable trust, and all the other must-have documents you need to protect you and your family.”

The article quotes will preparation services by a lawyer at approximately $800 – $1,000 a pop, making the $38 for Quicken WillMaker Plus, $70 at LegalZoom, or $14 for Suze Orman’s Kit seem like peanuts in comparison!

Some gotchas to be aware of… Follow the instructions carefully because even though you don’t need a lawyer, the witnessing and notarizing part is critical. Wills often require two witnesses but no notary, trusts and some medical directives and power of attorney require witnessing and notarization (state dependant). Good thing each of those packages will give you clear instructions based on state.

Source: NY Times

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7 Responses to “Do-It-Yourself Wills and Trusts”

  1. mbhunter says:

    A financial planner I talked with recommended running a will past a lawyer after composing it with one of these off the shelf methods. Where these save you a lot of money is that you’re not sitting with the lawyer at $150/hour or whatever while you’re figuring out your will. You have a good base document and the lawyer can read it for correctness and completeness.

  2. jim says:

    Why did he recommend it? Are there big gotchas?

  3. CK says:

    I think when you have substantional assets it could be penny wise but pound foolish to depend on a DIY method. You have to consider life insurance proceeds when thinking about assets. I think MBHunter’s idea is pretty sound. Get a rough draft from one of these products then talk to an attorney.

  4. Joe says:

    Don’t estate plan with do it yourself wills. If you have enough money to even think about writing a will–go to a lawyer because it is not that expensive. I think people confuse probate with having a will drafted–probate can be expensive but having a will prepared by a lawyer is relatively inexpensive. The more assets you have the more protection you need and yes probably the more money you spend on estate planning– don’t go cheap for your heirs sake.

  5. Art Dinkin says:

    Jim,

    I have to advise that you seek an attorney to write your will (and other key legal documents such as durable power of attorney, health care proxy, etc). Simply put, I don’t care what the attorney charges. It is just too important not to have this done professionally.

    When these documents go into effect, you will not be there to clarify your intentions. You will be dead. It will be too late. The judge who will ultimately decide your estate’s fate is an attorney. Hire someone who knows how to properly communicate your intentions to them.

    I suppose you could save some attorney fees by using a kit to make a draft, but most attorney’s I know tell me it is more time efficient for them to draft a new document than to read and modify an existing one. They do not first have to scour the existing document for trouble areas.

    I am a certificated pilot with hundreds of flight hours. I can tell you that most of the time anyone could fly the plane. Yet I have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours training for “what if’s”. I have had a few close calls and that training paid off. I once had to land a plane which had an oil leak which had rendered my visablility to next to nothing. Despite being unable to actually see the runway, I still walked away without a scratch (and no further dammage to the airplane).

    You may be fine with an inexpensive do-it-yourself will, but “what if”? At least YOU will never find out – that will be left for your wife and kids.

  6. Foobarista says:

    If you’re doing a simple spousal will and live in California, the state has simple online will document that can be used for a “quick & dirty” legal will. If you have any unusual special requests, odd arrangements, or complex investments, etc, you should talk to a lawyer.

  7. Tony says:

    Be wary when selecting someone to assist you in creating your Living Trust. Some fail to tell you that it is your responsibility to initiate all the paperwork for “transferring ownership” of your investments. Many companies and brokerage firms will not accept notarized documents of your Living Trust and will insist that you have Medallion Signature Guarantees in order to transfer all of your assests to the “Trust”.


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