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Save Money… Write Your Own Will

Considering how important your Last Will and Testament is, it’s remarkable how many people never produce one. And considering how easy it is to write a will entirely on your own, at minimal cost, it’s doubly remarkable. Unless you have absolutely no assets to pass on to heirs or charities, no minor children who may need guardianship, and no pets who would need new owners to care for them after your death, you absolutely should have a will. Otherwise, the state will make decisions over asset distribution and guardianship on your behalf, and what the state decides may not be what you would have decided.

Writing Your Own Will

Writing Your Own Will

Software to Prepare Your Own Will

You can hire an estate attorney to prepare a will for you, but this may cost hundreds of dollars, and there’s no need for it. There is plenty of will software on the market that allows you to prepare your own will — Quicken Willmaker retails for $70, but it can usually be obtained for much less as an extra with the purchase of other software products, for instance Quicken’s popular personal finance software. Or, you can find a will template online. There’s usually a fee to use an online template, but the fee is generally well under $100, and can likewise be purchased at a discount if you purchase additional software products. Be sure that the website is legitimate — Nolo, for instance, is a longstanding Internet resource that has been producing do-it-yourself legal documents for decades. These websites will also have plenty of ancillary information — the difference between wills and trusts, for instance, and descriptions of other estate planning documents you may need.

Components of a Will

Will writing is not a complicated matter. The cheapest option of all is to find an example of a Last Will and Testament — either online or from a friend — and write it yourself. Primarily, a will should designate an executor (the person who is tasked with carrying out the terms of your will after your death — this job can be a headache, so be sure to obtain that person’s approval beforehand!), specify how you wish your assets distributed and your debts paid, and name a guardian for any minor children you may have. You can also specify who should take care of your surviving pets (if any), how you may wish your funeral arranged, and other details. Don’t get too fancy and keep your writing precise. It’s best to follow an example, to ensure that your will is as complete as it needs to be.

If you use software that you purchase, for instance Quicken Will Maker, the software will follow you through an interview process, drafting the will automatically based on how you answer the questions. The software is designed to cover all the bases, with your answers leading the software to ask additional questions or move on to the next topic. Note that Quicken Will Maker addresses U.S. citizens resident in 49 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia. Overseas residents and Louisiana residents may need additional help. (As readers or viewers of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire can tell you, Louisiana law is derived from Napoleonic Code, and as such is a special case.)

Online Wills Can Be Rigid in Nature

Available wills online may be less flexible than Quicken Will Maker; Nolo’s Online Will is a reliable place to start. And if you’re an American resident in Louisiana or overseas, or a non-U.S. citizen, special online wills may be your best bet.

If you have any questions or doubts about a self-prepared will, you can always have an estate attorney read through it. You’ll of course have to pay, but it will be a lot cheaper than having the attorney draft your will from scratch. And if you have a revocable living trust that holds your assets and will distribute them rather than having your assets distributed through probate court according to your will, than have the lawyer who drafted your trust agreement also look over your will to ensure that they don’t conflict with each other. Unless you are very familiar with trust agreements, you should have a lawyer prepare that particular document for you.

Notarize Your Will

Once you have your document, make several copies and have them notarized. Leave one with your designated executor, one in a bank safe deposit box, and perhaps one in a place in your house that people know about, such as your sock drawer. Remember to update your will whenever necessary. Most important, if you don’t yet have a will, prepare one as soon as you can — it will take just a little time and effort.

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