Do I Need a Lawyer for a Will?
Wills are a part of the estate plan that helps your money, possessions, and property pass legally to your loved ones.
The process of creating a legally-binding will involves many areas of law, including:
- Real estate law (knowing if your house can pass to a loved one)
- Estate tax (understanding how much taxes your survivors will owe on your estate)
- Probate (understanding how your property will be transferred upon your death)
- Life insurance (knowing if your policy can transfer to someone else)
To make matters even more complicated, individual state laws (find your state here) and county ordinances can also play a significant role in how you create your will.
Wills Do Not Need an Attorney
Yes, a will is valid if you do not have it drawn up by an attorney. There are DIY will options and forms (around $80-$90) you can use to create your legal documents.
If you feel you have a good grasp of the concepts in the list above, then you may be a candidate for creating your own will. You should also have strong knowledge of your personal accounts and assets, so nothing is missed on your will.
Using a Notary for Will Signing
You also do not necessarily need a notary for your will. Many states allow a person to sign their will before two witnesses instead of having it notarized.
However, most people who write their own will want to include a "self-proving affidavit." This document does need a notary.
What You Need for a Will to Be Legal
A will needs to be signed and dated. In most states, you also need two witnesses to watch you sign your will.
Witnesses do not need to read your will, but they must be people who are not mentioned in the will. This means they cannot be anyone who will inherit or benefit from your will (some states make exceptions to this rule).
Note: Holographic wills (handwritten wills) do not need a witness. However, not all states recognize holographic wills as valid.
Get These Documents Together for Your Last Will and Testament
A general will shows how you want your property and possessions handled. You may need to find and record:
- All bank accounts
- Assets like cars, boats, houses, jewelry, and artwork
- Your life insurance policy
- Personal items you want to be passed on to specific people
- Contact information for your named beneficiary (or multiple beneficiaries)
- Accurate information about your financial situation
- Appraisals of your property
There are estate planning questionnaires, guidebooks, and worksheets to help you along the way.
You can also get planning information and legal document inventory worksheets in DIY form packages.
Living Wills for Medical Care
A living will tells doctors the kind of medical care you want after an accident or illness leaves you unconscious or unable to explain your choices.
But it is not just one document. Depending on your state, you may be required to fill out:
- Caregiver agreements for whoever you choose as a caregiver
- Health care directives for your medical choices
- Power of attorney documents to designate someone to make financial decisions
A living will is different than a general will. If you have a good grasp of healthcare law and the direction you want for your future medical care, you can DIY a living will.
When to Use a Lawyer For a Will
Anyone with complex estates or assets may want to use a lawyer for reliable legal advice and polished estate planning documents. The time it takes to read and understand all laws, prepare documents, and pay for any mistakes is more than the average person wants to spend. There is also a large amount of risk involved.
On average, an attorney will take 1-10 hours to create a will at their hourly rate. Many others charge a flat fee. Having a law firm handle the process for you is often worth the money, and the time saved.
You may want to use a lawyer if you know you need:
- A probate court (almost everyone goes through the probate process, but some circumstances are more straightforward than others)
- Provisions for minor children, stepchildren, special needs children, or blended families
- Appraisals and records of complex assets
- Large sums of money or multiple bank accounts
Is a DIY Will Right For You?
The choice is up to each individual. Online wills can save money for simple will creation. You can create a valid will without a lawyer's help if you are of sound mind and do your research.
Complex situations may benefit from professional help. If you have questions, many attorneys can answer them during a consultation or at their hourly rate.
Preventing mistakes and ensuring your will is legal are essential, which is why many people decide an estate planning attorney is their safest option.