You probably know that you can make your own will without a lawyer's help. But can you help someone else make a will if that person can't do it on his or her own?
A number of circumstances -- failing eyesight, shaky hands, or inexperience with computers -- could keep someone who is otherwise perfectly capable from making a will. Is it is perfectly legal to help someone in that situation make a will online or with will-making software.
However – and this is a big however -- you must make sure that your role is only to further the will maker's wishes. You can read, type, print, and staple at the will maker's direction. But you must not decide or even weigh in on the terms of the will. Do not sway the will maker in any way; you must be a neutral actor.
Also, do not not use your own handwriting to fill in a fill-in-the-blanks will. More on this below.
If the will maker knows he or she wants to makes a will without a lawyer, you can help that person search for self-help will making products. You will find a number of products to choose from. Of course here at Nolo, we're biased toward our own easy-to-use options: Quicken WillMaker & Trust, Nolo's Online Will, and the Quick and Legal Will Book. On Nolo.com, we can also help you learn How to Choose the Right Product to Make a Will.
CAUTION: Don't choose a fill in the blank product. It's never a good idea to use a fill in the blank will – even in states where they are legal. But if the will maker can't fill in the blanks without help, it's an even worse idea. Stick with a product that is entirely typed – one generated by a software program, or one that you type in entirety using a typewriter or computer.
After you have purchased a product, you can help the will maker use it to create a will document. As long as the will maker is calling the shots, you can read the instructions, explain how the program works, type, and print at the will maker's direction.
If your role goes beyond helping the will maker put together a will that is entirely the product of his or her wishes, a court could declare the will invalid—and you may even face legal charges.
WHEN TO GET EXPERT HELP: If the person you want to help cannot clearly direct the will-making process, or if you have any concern that the person may not fully understand what it means to make a will, see an experienced estate planning attorney for help
If you decide to help someone else prepare a will, you may want to take an extra step to document your role: Make an audio or video recording of the process or ask someone else to be present as a witness while you follow the will maker's directions.
Example: Betty asks her neighbor, James, to help her make her will because her hands shake too badly to type her responses into an online program. She dictates her answers to James and he types them in at her direction. She also tells James to print out the document for her to sign. For extra security, Betty's friend Wendy watches as a witness so she can later testify to James's role, if necessary.
If you have questions about estate planning for yourself or a loved one or someone you love, Nolo can help. Nolo.com provides a lot of free legal information about estate planning (and much more) including information about making wills, trusts, health care directives, and powers of attorney. Nolo's plain-English articles will also let you know when you should see a professional for help, as this article did.
To learn more about estate planning, go to Nolo's Wills, Trusts & Probate section.