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What Are the Pros and Cons of Do-It-Yourself Wills?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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A will, formally referred to as a last will and testament, is a legal document that is created and executed by someone — the testator — which directs how the testator's assets are to be distributed upon his or her death. An individual may choose to retain the services of a wills and trusts attorney to create a will, or he or she may choose to create his or her own. Do-it-yourself wills, as with all do-it-yourself legal documents, have pros and cons for anyone who chooses to use them. Among the pros of do-it-yourself wills are limited cost, simplicity, and the ability to change the will frequently. Among the cons of do-it-yourself wills are the absence of legal advice and the inherent limitation of do-it-yourself wills where complex estates are involved.

Although the requirements for a valid will will vary by jurisdiction, most do not require the services of an attorney to create or execute a valid will. Within the United States, most state statutes regarding wills simply require that the testator be of sound mind and that the will be properly witnessed. As a result, do-it-yourself wills have become a popular option. Do-it-yourself wills may be located online or at local stationary stores for a minimal fee in most cases.

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The most obvious advantage to using a do-it-yourself will is that the cost is minimal compared to retaining the services of an attorney to create the will. Of course, when deciding to forgo the cost of an attorney, the individual also loses the advice and guidance of an attorney. Laws regarding estate distribution, intestate succession, and estate taxes can be complex and will vary from one jurisdiction to the next. For a simple estate with minimal assets, the guidance of an attorney may not be necessary, making the cost unnecessary as well; however, for a medium to large estate, the advice of an attorney may be worth the cost.

In addition, do-it-yourself wills are easy to follow when the estate is small and there are no complicated legal issues. Many do-it-yourself documents offer step-by-step instructions that can make completing the will fast and easy. If, however, the estate is more complex, then many do-it-yourself documents are unequipped to guide the maker through the complexities. In addition, a do-it-yourself will may not take into account the estate tax consequences of the provisions found within the will.

One of the pros, however, of using a do-it-yourself will is that the testator can make changes to the will as often as he or she wishes. If the testator's assets change, or there is a substantial life change such as a divorce or birth of a child, a new will can be created quickly and easily. When an attorney is retained to create a will, on the other hand, it will take longer and cost more to make even a simple change to a will.

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Ana1234
Post 3

@pastanaga - I would recommend that most people in a complicated situation use a lawyer and just update it when necessary. If there isn't a complicated situation, then a do it yourself will is probably the best option.

My sister has had a long history of drug abuse and has stolen huge sums of money from my parents over the years. She's clean now and she has had a wonderful son.

When my mother recently visited the lawyer to update her will, she explained that she didn't want to leave a large sum of money from insurance or anything like that to my sister because she felt it would be too much temptation, and that she'd prefer to leave it mostly

to my nephew.

The lawyer had to explain to her that it had to be done in a certain way, so that my sister wouldn't be able to contest it in court. In the end I think they organized something to do with a trust, although I don't know all the details. But it's not something my mother would have thought of on her own.

pastanaga
Post 2

@KoiwiGal - Don't just think that making a will as a piece of paper dividing up your property among your kids will cut it though. Particularly in the modern world, where a lot of people have remarried and have non-traditional family structures, you need to make sure that your wishes are clear and that your will and testament is legal. This is even more true if you are going to be doing something that might be controversial.

KoiwiGal
Post 1

Please do try to keep your will up to date, for the sake of your family and make sure it's very clear which one is the latest one. When my father died the only will we could find was decades out of date and wasn't complete in a legal sense, so we had a long and painful struggle getting his estate sorted out (since he and my mother had divorced, there wasn't a clear avenue for inheritance).

I know my dad wouldn't have wanted that for us but there wasn't really any choice since he didn't update his will and he died unexpectedly.

Even if you don't want to think about this kind of thing, creating a will is an act of love for your family.

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