Write Your Own Will, Use an Online Form Service or Hire an Attorney?

Can you write your own will? Yes, you can. You can also build your own house, but that doesn’t mean you should.

A will is an important legal document that contains your instructions and wishes for distributing your property and assets after you die. This document contains the names of the people you want to benefit, your beneficiaries, as well as details about your home, land, vehicles, bank accounts, investments, jewelry, artwork, and other possessions. Your will also allows you to choose a personal guardian to care for your children if you should die when they are still minors. Your will should be written carefully, correctly and in compliance with the laws of your state to be sure your beneficiaries will be taken care of when you are gone.

In order for your will to be valid, and accepted by the court, it must, with some exceptions, be in writing, signed with your signature, and witnessed by at least two witnesses (three in Vermont) who are neither relatives nor beneficiaries. Otherwise, the court may not accept your will, and it may be unenforceable. If your will is found invalid, the court may distribute your assets as if there were no will, and the court will determine who will care for your children.

Many books, software packages, and online resources promise to help you write a will that covers everything and will stand up to the probate process. Although these resources may help you produce valid legal documents, virtually all of them come with a strong disclaimer. Here is one example:

This product is not a substitute for legal advice from an attorney. We’ve done our best to give you useful, accurate legal information, but that’s not the same as personalized legal advice. If you want help understanding how the law applies to your particular circumstances, or deciding which estate planning documents are best for you and your family, you should consider seeing a qualified attorney…

If you have a very simple estate, and own no real property or valuable personal property, have only one or two small bank accounts, and have no minor children, you can probably write your own will, with the assistance of a reputable book, software package or online service.

If, however, you own your own home or homes, have some investments, and especially if you have minor children, the safest way to make your will is to consult with an estate attorney who knows the laws in your state, will ask you all the right questions, and will cover all the bases to form a valid, legal document ensuring your assets will go to whom you want them to go. Even if you use one of the books, software packages or online services for a simple will, it is highly recommended that you have an estate attorney take a look at it to make sure it is made in accordance with the laws of your state.