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Financial Literacy - Planning for your heirs
What to know about wills
A will enables you to name a guardian who would rear your minor children if you and the other parent were to die.
Planning for your heirs

What you need to know about wills

Do you need an attorney?
Once you've determined that you need a will, you could pay an attorney or use computer software and books to create your will. Writing one yourself, without any legal advice or knowledge of wills, is not a good idea.

A natural question stemming from any discussion about wills involves whether you should see an attorney to create one. The answer depends on who you ask.

Naturally, the creators of will software packages are proponents of creating wills with their programs.

But attorney Spencer, for one, thinks will-creating computer programs can be dangerous.

"There are a lot of issues that people are unaware of, especially in these days of blended families where you have spouses who are on their second or third marriage and they have children from the first marriage, children from the second marriage, children together with their spouse, and most people don't have an understanding of who is legally entitled to property. If, for example, you say, 'I give everything to my children in equal shares,' which among those children are included? Most people don't know that a stepchild is not a child for this purpose unless they are adopted. That's just one example of how language can be used loosely and really be very destructive," she says.

On the other hand, Clifford says that many people with simple situations can do it themselves, and that Nolo's books and software point out situations where people should consult an attorney.

"One example is if you think anybody in your family is going to contest or fight over anything that you've done -- if you even have a hint that that could happen, see a lawyer. Or you have a complex family situation or you want to set up a special needs trust for a handicapped, disadvantaged child. There are many, many situations that I think you should see a lawyer, but we try to highlight them all in the book and tell people why we think they should see a lawyer."

Randolph concurs. "The decisions that you make when you make a will are really personal ones, they're about who you want to leave your money to, who you want to raise your children -- those aren't usually things that a lawyer is a lot of help with. A lawyer is good at looking up unusual situations and giving you advice about maybe more complicated financial things or if you have business interests and you want to coordinate that with a co-owner."

No matter which route you go, take extra care to ensure that your will is legally valid.

-- Posted: Nov. 19, 2007
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