Attorneys and other estate planners do not come cheaply, so when it comes time to make your last will and testament, can you go it alone? Doing it yourself may be the fastest, easiest, and least expensive option, at least if your estate is very simple. Even when this is true there will be significant variation among states, it is best to avoid doing it yourself if you have:
It’s not just ‘I leave everything to my spouse’ situations that can be managed by you, with the correct source you can handle more complicated situations. Will templates can be found in many places, including a downloaded fill-in-the-blank “flat” will form, will-making software, websites with will-making programs, books or articles with detailed information, or statutory wills. California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin offer statutory wills which are simplified will templates specific to that state.
Many estates with higher levels of complexity can be done without professional help. Your ability to do this will vary, depending on your abilities and complexity of the laws in your state. You must be honest with yourself when deciding, with help if necessary, what level of complexity you can handle before going to a professional.
There are certainly places you can access will documents or programs, but most are designed to be simple and may only cover the most basic details or steps of estate planning. These sources may not be able to keep the templates or program up to date.
This process was partially outlined in What Should Be Included in Your Will. Should you decide your will is going to be simple to create, here is a brief summary of the steps to take. Each step should be labeled as consecutively numbered “Articles.” The details of each will be found in a separate section.
In order to have a valid will, you must be of legal age. In most states this means you are at least 18 years old, have been lawfully married, or are a member of the U.S. military. You must be of sound mind and can attest that you are creating your will voluntarily.
Since all wills are subject to the probate process, it is crucial that you get it right. The probate court has the option of invalidating any part of or your entire will if it doesn’t meet their standards.
Law itself is a very complex subject. even things that appear to be straightforward can be complex.
You need to completely understand the difference between probate and non-probate assets enough to list the appropriate ones.
Using incorrect legal language, simple mistakes like forgetting to put the date, or contradictory instructions may invalidate your entire will or certain sections.
Invalidation results in leaving it to the court to decide on any unvalidated sections or instructions and a lot of extra time and money.
Making mistakes makes it much easier to contest the will.
State and federal laws concerning wills and estate taxes are constantly changing and most people are not able to keep pace with it.
Even if naming beneficiaries and distributing your assets appear easy, there may be documents or addenda to the will that would make it easier to update the will, list assets by type, and distribute assets to a wider group of beneficiaries.
If your estate is large and complex, you may not be able to manage it yourself. You should consider getting professional help if:
Be aware of ways to reduce estate and inheritance taxes before starting your will, otherwise you could miss out on saving this money.
Will you be able to anticipate and plan for all contingencies, such as the death of a beneficiary? You may be able to envision most of them, but professionals have experience and could be helpful.
Will templates/programs can guide you through the correct way to make special requests or inform you about those you can’t. For example, some states do not allow certain individuals to be disinherited.
Remember how important all that legalese is for these requests to be recognized.
Once you have created your will, you may opt to have it professionally evaluated at that point. It would assure the will is valid, but be less expensive than having it done entirely by an attorney.
You can alter your will by yourself by using codicils or writing a new will
What Is a ‘Valid Will’? FindLaw website. Updated: January 19, 2018. Accessed: November 9, 2020.