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Making a do-it-yourself will

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Posted: 3 pm ET

Almost everybody doing retirement planning needs a will, a health care directive and, very likely, a power of attorney. If legal bills aren't in your retirement budget and your financial situation isn't complicated, one place to start is with an online, do-it-yourself form.

You can buy them online or at many office supply stores. They may not be perfect for everything or everybody, but they can streamline the process, says Quicken WillMaker, one of the companies that creates these forms. Betsy Simmons Hannibal, legal editor at legal website Nola, which designed Quicken WillMaker, says, "If you read the document you've created and you don't understand it, you need some help."

She also believes that people who are leaving money and possessions to offspring who are likely to fight over the gifts need a lawyer's help crafting their wills.

Even if you decide you require something more sophisticated, using the packaged software, which sells for less than $50, will help you clarify your thinking and get organized. Taking the rough draft with you to the attorney's office will cut the time it takes him to understand your wishes and trim the resulting bill.

Hannibal's other suggestions for do-it-yourself will-makers include:

  • Don't leave your will on the computer. Print it out, sign it and have it notarized.
  • Don't make dozens of copies and distribute them. You could be creating trouble for your heirs if you change your will later and there are still old copies floating around.
  • Don't put your will in your safety deposit box. Being unable to read the will could prevent your heirs from stepping up and doing what needs to be done after you die.
  • Do tell your heirs where you are keeping your will. Playing hide and seek at this time is frustrating.
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1 Comment
December 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm

the first line of this article should be rewritten to say "Almost everybody doing retirement planning needs a trust, a health care directive and, very likely, a power of attorney.
While there certainly are those whose estate size might warrant a will, a trust is a better option for folks who own a home or other property and for everybody who wants to avoid the unknowns of probate. While the cost of setting up a will may be very low, at death the cost, time and frustration associated with settling a will are an unknown, but surveys have shown them to land between 4 to 7% of the estate. Wills can be contested in court which only drives the cost up. Trusts are not as easily contested. If a family wants to distribute their assets unequally to their heirs a trust is a better option and is the only recommended method for families with disabled heirs.
But - a trust is only a document. To truly control your costs, lifetime trust services including end of life settlement is the best option.