There are many reasons to rely on the aid of a professional to create your will; poorly drafted wills could leave your cherished possessions in unintended hands. Paying a lawyer to create a will can be expensive, however, especially if you factor in the ongoing costs associated with keeping your will up-to-date.
A lower cost alternative exists in the many online services that can generate a will for you. Some of these services provide a quality product, especially if your needs in an estate plan are simple. And provided you follow the formalities required by the laws of your state, an online service can be a way to obtain a more professionally created will for a lower cost.
There are still some advantages to hiring an attorney, of course. When you can meet with someone face-to-face, you have more of a guarantee that the professional will better understand your needs and expectations. Sometimes your estate plan can be better served with a different type of structure, such as with a living trust rather than a last will and testament.
Additionally, establishing a relationship with an attorney will make updating your estate plan easier, as you can return to the same practitioner. Many lawyers offer discounts for clients who retain their services for creating updated wills. And if things go wrong, an attorney’s malpractice insurance can help cover financial losses you face, while online services might only offer a money-back guarantee.
If you choose to create your will online, make sure that you take the time to familiarize yourself with the laws and requirements of the state you live in. You will want to feel comfortable with the will’s language and the effect it will have on your property distribution. Make sure the service you select is credible; ones that employ actual attorneys to review the documents before sending them to you are ideal.
Ensure that the company will provide you with the steps you must follow after the will has been created. If the will is signed or witnessed improperly, your will is at risk of being disregarded. Make sure the online service you choose will provide you with state-specific information about the number of witnesses you need, whether the witnesses must actually be present when you sign your will, and any other formalities you must follow to ensure proper execution of your will.
A note hastily written and left on your bedside table right before you pass away may be sufficient to act as a will, but not always. This type of will is known as a holographic will, and is accepted only in some states.
In order for holographic wills to be recognized in the states that allow them, three general requirements must be fulfilled: the will must clearly be intended as a final disposition of the individual’s assets, must be written entirely in the individual’s own handwriting, and must have evidence that the individual wrote the will (such as through witnesses or an expert in identifying handwriting). Other general will requirements also apply, such as the testator — the person writing the will — being of sound mind at the time of writing.
Author of the book Estate Planning Smarts, Deborah L. Jacobs, was interviewed by Christine Benz of Morningstar Inc. In the interview, Ms. Jacobs spoke about why new parents need a will to protect their children:
The most important thing — and it’s something that I recommend people do almost immediately after becoming parents — is to be sure that you have a will. This is not only to transfer assets, but to appoint a guardian for your child if for some reason the child is orphaned. People don’t realize that a will is the only document they can use to do this, and if they don’t, then the whole matter has to go to court.
Ms. Jacobs also emphasizes that estate planning is not just for the wealthy; regardless of your financial means, a will helps to ensure that your children are taken care of in the event of your death.
If you have minor children, an important aspect of your estate plan will be selecting a guardian or guardians to take custody of your children after your death. Selecting a guardian can be difficult, and you and your parter (and attorney if possible) should deeply discuss all possible options before making a decision.
When selecting the individual who will take guardianship of your children, there are a few things you should consider.