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Wills and estate planning

Do-it-yourself will: Is it always a good choice?

Creating a will yourself is an option in the estate planning process, but there are times when you should consult a lawyer and get their expertise, especially if your affairs are complicated.
Creating your last will and testament online can be a quick, easy, and affordable alternative over enlisting the services of a lawyer. But how do you know when it's right for you?

How complex is your will?

With many sites offering do-it-yourself wills for under $100, the online process may be an easy way for creating a will at a bargain price. And they probably are if you need only a simple will - meaning you don't have a lot of assets or investments that you need to consider.

But real life isn't always so simple. Special assets such as a family business or property in multiple states, stepchildren, and other situations don't always fit into an online fill-in-the-blank form. Depending on your situation, you'll also need to familiarize yourself regarding estate laws in your jurisdiction.

When should you consult a lawyer?

While much of the population can benefit from an online will, there are certain situations that warrant an attorney's expertise. If your affairs are complicated or you have substantial assets, you may want to seek the help of an attorney if:

  • You or your spouse are citizens of another country.
  • Your estate contains significant assets that may be subject to estate taxes.
  • You have specific plans for those inheriting your property. 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 business owner and have questions as to the rights of surviving owners or your ownership share.
  • You have a special-needs or a dependent adult child, and arrangements such as setting up a trust to ensure that person's long-term care must be made.
  • You have a spouse who may need nursing home care.
  • You anticipate that someone may contest your will.
  • You have been married more than once.
  • You have minor children and need to make specific guardianship arrangements.
  • You are raising grandchildren or stepchildren.
  • You specifically wish to disinherit, or substantially disinherit, your spouse.
  • You are in a same-sex relationship.
  • You have questions and aren't sure what your available options are.

Even if you decide to create your will yourself, don't altogether rule out consulting a lawyer. In many situations, you can get the answers you need without having to relinquish to a lawyer the entire project of making a will. You may want to also consider asking an attorney to review your document and even oversee the execution of the will. Often, fees for this type of legal service are considerably less than if you had an attorney draw up the entire document.

Remember, if you decide to seek professional advice, make sure you find a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and knows your state laws. Tax attorneys, accountants, and certified financial planners can also help with estate planning issues. For more information on understanding wills, visit the American Bar Association.


Sources used in this article include:

American Bar Association



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