Do it yourself wills, aka DIY wills, are better than doing nothing, but I think you need to learn a little bit about legal wills before you jump in. The DIY wills industry is going nuts, because people feel like they are getting a simple document and getting ripped off for hundreds of dollars when they go to the lawyers. Yes, I’m a lawyer, but I think people can do DIY wills and come out just fine.
The disclaimer on writing your own will is to seek the help of a competent attorney (that’s an Oxymoron) if you are out of the norm. However if you are a mom-and-pop-middle-class-type individual without a taxable estate (say under $2 million) and you want the kids to get all the property equally when you die, then a DIY will should be adequate. It’s certainly better than nothing and is a perfectly legal will.
If you have a house, car, some bank accounts, brokerage accounts, etc., then maybe a will isn’t really what you want. Yes, writing wills is cheap. It should be under $500 at the lawyer’s office and the DIY wills should run about $30. The problem is, if you have property and it “passes” through a will, there is going to be a probate. Lawyers don’t put up much of a stink over Do It Yourself wills, because they are going to get the probate and there really isn’t a DIY probate kit. Same problem with DIY wills online.
Probate is expensive, time consuming, and emotionally draining. In theory probate isn’t that bad and the guys pushing DIY wills will tell you not to worry about it. Unfortunately, it is a time when a family is unusually vulnerable, and a large percentage of lawyers will “take advantage” of the family at that time.
I would recommend a living revocable trust for most middle class families. It will allow you at least a shot at avoiding probate. If there isn’t any property that needs to be probated, a will should be adequate. If there’s not much property, then any kit that lets you do the DIY wills should work. You do need to be a little careful, because most of the DIY wills don’t take into account state laws.
Most states have adopted the national Uniform Probate Code, which means the will should be the same for that state, and assuming the DIY wills kit is based on the Uniform Probate Code, you shouldn’t even have to worry about state laws; provided, you live in one of the states that have adopted the Uniform Probate Code. Most states have created laws based on the Uniform Probate Code. At the end of this article, you’ll find a list of the 18 states that have adopted the Uniform Probate Code in its entirety.
Drafting a will is only a small part of estate planning. There are four legal tools you need to form the basic foundation of an estate plan. A will is only one of those tools. I’ll go through the six fatal mistakes people make when they do their estate planning. Just click to see 6 short videos that will fill you in on the disasters to avoid. The bottom line is estate planning is a lot more complicated than a will, but if you insist on only having a will, making wills the DIY way is probably as good as the lawyer’s shop.
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