Using a Will Template
What you need to know before you make your own will.
Do you want to make your will using a will template? If so, you’re not alone. While estate planning once seemed the sacred domain of lawyers, it’s now increasingly common to write your own will using a template, form, or will-writing program. Most people do not want to pay a lawyer for simple estate planning, and many just want an inexpensive will that they can download to their computer.
Is it Safe to Use a Will Template?
Whether it’s safe to use a will template depends almost entirely on the quality of the form. Legally, there are very few requirements to make a will. In the United States, to make a written will, you must
- be an adult with “capacity” to sign a will
- state your wishes in writing
- sign the document, and
- have witnesses sign the document.
(For more about these see, Executing a Will.)
So, you don’t need a lawyer’s fancy language to make a will – anyone can do it with or without a will template or form. The trick is making sure that the will does what you want it to do.
What Makes a Good Will Template
A good will template is clear, simple, and effective. The template should allow you to create a document that reflects your wishes and isn’t marred down in a bunch of legalese that you don’t understand. A good will template will also provide thorough instructions that explain your options, instruct you on completing and finalizing your will, and alert you when your situation requires help from a lawyer.
Types of Will Templates
Using the internet, you can find a smorgasbord of will templates that require varying amount of work at a range of prices and qualities. Types of will templates include:
- fill-in-the-blank “flat” forms
- statutory forms -- for example, California’s statutory form
- books -- for example, The Quick and Legal Will Book
- will software -- for example, Quicken WillMaker Plus
- online will programs -- for example, Nolo’s Online Will
Read Types of Will Templates to learn more about these options and for help choosing the product that’s right for you.
Who Can Use a Will Template
Although many people can safely make a will using a will template, it’s not for everyone. Do-it-yourself wills are best for those with simple estate planning needs. For example, if you consider yourself in the middle class and you want all or most of your property to go to your spouse or children, you should be able to make your will yourself.
On the other hand, don’t try to use a will template if you:
- are not sure what property you own
- want to put conditions on your gifts
- think that someone might contest your will.
- have a complicated business situation
- want to leave property to a person with a disability, or
- own more than $5 million worth of property.
Also, even if there is no particular complication that might keep you from making your own will, you may still prefer an attorney-drafted will – either because you feel more comfortable having a professional do it, or because you just don’t want to put the effort into doing it yourself.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Even if you choose to write your will using a will template, you may still want a lawyer’s help. For example, in the course of making your will you may have questions about your situation that only a lawyer can answer. Or, you may want a lawyer to look over your document to make sure it reflects your wishes. In either case, you may be able to hire a lawyer on an hourly basis to help you, but be prepared for push back. Most lawyers are familiar only with the forms they use, and so may not be able to give you advice about your will without suggesting that you would be better off with his or her form. If that happens to you, the best you can do is to gather as much information you can about the lawyer’s concerns and then decide for yourself whether your will is up to snuff. This issue underscores the importance of using a high-quality will product to make your will.
To find a lawyer near you who is more likely to be sympathetic to do-it-yourself wills, check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory at http://www.nolo.com/lawyers/.