Making a Will: Are Lawyers Optional?

Most people don't need a lawyer to make their will. Here's why.

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If you're thinking about making your own will, you may feel a little uneasy about the process. After all, shouldn't you seek a lawyer's help with such an important legal document?

The answer depends on your situation. If you're like most people, you won't need a lawyer. With good do-it-yourself materials, it's not difficult to make a will that takes care of basic concerns, such as leaving a home, investments, a small business, and personal items to your loved ones. And if you have young children, you can use your will to name a guardian to take care of them, as well as someone to manage any property they inherit.

Making a Basic Will

You may be interested to know that when lawyers draft wills, they usually start with a standard form that contains the same types of clauses contained in most do-it-yourself wills. Most attorneys put their standard will form into a computer and have a secretary type in the client's name, the names of the people the client wants his or her property to go to, and other basic information -- exactly what you can do for yourself when you make your own will with software.

Making a will rarely involves complicated legal rules. In most states, if you're married, your spouse has the right to claim a certain amount of your property after your death. If you leave your spouse at least half of your property, this won't be an issue.

You need to sign and acknowledge your will in front of two witnesses. But beyond these basic requirements, you may parcel out your property however you like, and you don't have to use fancy language to do it. In short, if you know what you own, whom you care about, and you take a little time to use self-help resources, you should be fine.

Make your will today with maximum ease and minimum cost using Nolo's Online Will. Just log in, answer questions about yourself and your property, and print. Your document will print out with detailed instructions on how to sign in front of witnesses to make your will legally binding.

Or make your will with Quicken WillMaker Plus, software that comes with dozens of other useful documents such as Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive.

Don't, however, rule out consulting a lawyer. In some situations a lawyer's services are warranted. And you don't necessarily have to turn over the whole project of making a will; you may just want to ask some questions and then finish making your own will.

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When to Consult a Lawyer

You may want to talk to a lawyer if:

  • You have questions about your will or other options for leaving your property.
  • You expect to leave a very large amount of assets and they may be subject to estate tax unless you engage in tax planning.
  • Rather than simply naming people to inherit your property, you want to make more complex plans -- for example, leaving your house in trust to your spouse until he or she dies and then having it pass to your children from a previous marriage.
  • You are a small business owner and have questions as to the rights of surviving owners or your ownership share.
  • You must make arrangements for long-term care of a beneficiary -- for example, setting up a trust for an incapacitated or disadvantaged child.
  • You fear someone will contest your will on grounds of fraud, or claim that you were unduly influenced, or weren't of sound mind when you signed it.
  • You wish to disinherit, or substantially disinherit, your spouse. It's usually not possible to do this if your spouse objects, but a lawyer can explain your spouse's rights.

Also, some people simply feel more comfortable having a lawyer review their will, even though their situation has no apparent legal complications.

Finding a Lawyer

If you decide to see a lawyer, your next task will be to find one who is knowledgeable about wills, charges a reasonable fee, and will respect your efforts to make your own will. This may not be easy, but it shouldn't be impossible. See How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.

Or, you can go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of estate planning lawyers in your geographical area (click on a lawyer's profile to learn more).

by: , J.D.

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