Here is the short answer to this very important question:
No, but you’ll need to invest time, energy, and probably a little money to do it right yourself. Many families have written legally valid wills by using a self-help book or a will-writing software program, although mistakes are more likely with a do-it-yourself will.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If the cost of using a lawyer is holding you back from writing a will, buy a self-help book and do it yourself. Nolo, a respected legal publishing house, has self-help books and software for sale online. Check Nolo’s wills and estates area for the latest offerings. Or ask your public librarian to guide you to up-to-date books on the subject.
On the other hand, if the thought of plowing through pages of legalese is too daunting, call a family lawyer. Ask for recommendations from family or friends. A lawyer can cost you anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but the money buys you expertise and peace of mind.
To save money, think through what you want to include in your will first and then contact a lawyer to go over the finer details. Also, find out whether your employee benefits include free legal consultation. Such consultations may be limited to 30 minutes, but that could be a very helpful half hour.
Here are a few ideas to start you off:
- Make a list of all your assets, including bank accounts, investments, real estate, life insurance, and personal property.
- Decide exactly whom you want to inherit what, and when. For instance, you might want your daughter to inherit her grandmother’s gold bracelet when she turns 16.
- Choose a guardian for your children.
- Choose an alternate guardian in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to do the job.
- Decide whether you want someone else to handle the assets you leave your children. If so, choose that person.
- Choose an executor to carry out your wishes and handle the necessary paperwork after you die.
- Decide whether you want to include a letter stating how you’d like your children to be raised and educated, your funeral to be arranged, and so on.
You can get more useful suggestions, ideas, and free sample forms online by searching for “will and testament forms” or something similar. But most experts argue against relying solely on Internet sources for the many important legal decisions a will requires.
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