5 Reasons to Get Professional Help Writing Your Will
I'm a firm believer in do-it-yourself projects: there are many DIY car maintenance, home improvement, and financial projects that you can pursue on your own to save money. However, certain matters inevitably require professional assistance.
Writing a will is one such undertaking that should not be attempted on your own. There are many will writing tools available online, but none can guarantee that your final document will be free of mistakes. Don't get in over your head - in a matter as serious as completing your will, professional help is a must.
Reasons to Hire Professional Help When Writing Your Will
1. Attorney Costs Are Minimal
Depending upon the complexity of your financial situation, a solid, specific last will and testament can be created for you by an attorney for approximately $1,000. While this costs far more than drafting your own will, consider the big picture for your estate planning: even if your estate is worth only $100,000, wouldn't you think it prudent to spend a mere 1% of that amount to make sure everything is done according to your exact wishes?
2. A Will Must Be Error-free
If you make a mistake in your will - or if you are not clear enough regarding your wishes - you are not going to be around to explain yourself or make corrections. Some common errors found in DIY wills include:
Forgetting to sign the will
Not telling anyone where the will is kept
Forgetting to update the will
Adding or updating amendments improperly and, in the process, nullifying them
Your passing is likely going to cause a lot of grief and heartache amongst your friends and family. I doubt you would want to add confusion over the terms of your will to their loss.
3. Vague Wording Used in a Will May Cause Confusion
Keep in mind that no matter how much time you might invest in writing your own will, many "homemade" wills suffer from non-specific language. Far too often, the language used in these DIY wills is vague and can easily be misinterpreted. An attorney will use standard language that doesn't equivocate, so it can be easily understood by executors of will, officers of the court, and beneficiaries, as applicable.
4. Your Assumptions for Writing a Will Are Likely Incorrect
If you decide to write your own will, you may do so with certain built-in assumptions that may not actually transpire. A few examples include:
If you will property to an heir, what happens if you outlive that heir?
If you will an asset to a friend/relative today, what happens if that asset is gone when your will is executed?
If you outlive children designated as beneficiaries in your will, what happens?
If you leave a house to an heir, who is responsible for the expenses of keeping up the property?
This list could go on ad infinitum. Suffice it to say that a lawyer trained in the creation of wills will know to cover these contingencies.
5. A Handwritten Will May Be Considered Invalid
Your handwritten will may not be recognized by the courts if it does not follow proper guidelines. It needs to be witnessed, and, in most cases, it needs to be notarized. Also, laws concerning wills vary by state. Retain the services of a professional to guard against potential pitfalls related to establishing the validity of your will.
While you most certainly can write your own will, I believe that there are too many potential problems that can arise. If your financial situation has any complexity to it at all, the chances for errors grow even more. For example, if your situation involves blended families, ex-spouses, or any number of other special conditions, the chances that your wishes will not be carried out increases.
What are your thoughts on DIY wills? Have written your own, or employed the help of a professional?
David Bakke is a financial columnist for the Money Crashers personal finance site, where he shares his opinions and tips related to budgeting, money management, and retirement.