People don’t have time to make wills, they aren’t sure where to start, and lawyers are expensive. Those are just a few of the takeaways from a recent non-scientific survey of several hundred Nolo customers.
Those conclusions might not surprise you—but some of the other answers we got were pretty unexpected. Here are some lessons for the rest of us.
Ladies, step up!
Many estate planning lawyers report that they get most of their calls from women, especially wives who have taken the lead on getting wills for themselves and their husbands. But in our survey, two-thirds of the male respondents had wills, compared to just over a third of the women.
Is it possible that fewer women than men think it’s important for them to write wills? It’s true that there is still a significant disparity in wealth, overall, between men and women in this country. But even if you don’t think you have much in the way of assets to leave, a will gives you peace of mind, for several reasons:
- By specifying who gets what—especially items with emotional significance—you head off disputes.
- By choosing an executor to handle things, you put someone you trust in charge.
- By naming a guardian for your young children (under 18), you ensure that the person you chose would raise your children if for some reason you and the other parent couldn’t. If you don’t make your preference known in your will, a judge would have to choose a guardian without any knowledge of your wishes.
An old will is a worthless will
Well, at least it often is. If there’s been a big change in your life—marriage, divorce, new child or grandchild, a move to another state—then you should take another look at your will and other estate planning documents. In our survey, almost one in five people said that since they had made their most recent will, they had experienced at least one of those events.
A valid will doesn’t become invalid when you move across state lines. (There’s one exception to that rule: Some states won’t accept a handwritten or “holographic” will even if it was valid in the state where it was written.) But you still may want to draft a new one to reflect your new state’s laws. Those laws could affect how you and your spouse own certain assets, for example, or your options for appointing someone to manage assets inherited by a child or young adult.
Making a will doesn’t take a lot of time
Among the people who told us they hadn’t yet made a will, the number-one reason was—can you guess?—“I’m too busy.” Almost half of the procrastinators said they just didn’t have time—not surprising, given how stretched most of us feel by family and work commitments. Another big reason for not making a will was that people simply didn’t know how to start the process of getting it made.
These reasons are perfectly understandable—but they don’t need to keep anyone from making a will anymore. With the advent of easy-to-use software and online apps, you can make your will in half an hour, sitting in front of your laptop or tablet. Good tools will take into account the laws of your state and your unique family circumstances, and give you enough background information to let you make informed choices.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money
We were floored to find that people who hired a lawyer to draft a will had spent, on average, $1,400. That’s an awful lot of money for a document that ought to be simple. (It’s the complicated ones that lead to confusion and trouble.) Of course, if you have questions about a particular issue—providing for children from a prior marriage or a child with special needs, or how to hand down your business, or estate tax—you may well want some estate planning advice from an attorney who’s an expert in estate planning.
No matter what else you may need, however, it’s always a good idea to have a simple, valid will. And with good tools and a little work, you can do it yourself, without a lawyer. What are you waiting for?