I’ve talked about essential estate documents before, and I made the point that everyone needs a will (assuming you’re over 18). A will simply ensures that your assets are given to the people you want in the way you want. But I’ve found that we neglect getting a will for two reasons:
- We don’t want to deal with thoughts of our own death. Writing a will makes some people feel like they’re planning to die. But this shouldn’t keep you from doing something that’s good for you and your loved ones. You’re going to die someday. Get over it and get a will.
- We think we can’t afford it. Everyone knows attorneys don’t come cheap. It’s not uncommon to find attorneys who charge $250/hour or more for their work. A complete estate plan can run anywhere from $500 to $5000 or more depending on who you use. But there are alternatives – and that’s what this article is about.
Do Your Own Will
The cheapest way to get a will is to do it yourself. But the problem is you can easily make mistakes that will invalidate your will – making it completely useless. Or worse, you could end up writing a will that goes against your wishes without realizing it. And if you’re in Louisiana, you shouldn’t even consider doing estate planning without an attorney (they have some strange laws there).
But if you’re willing to do some research, carefully consider your decisions, and follow instructions exactly, then making your own will can be a viable alternative to using an attorney. Obviously, the preferred method is to use an experienced estate planning attorney, but if the cost is keeping you from making a will at all then going the do-it-yourself route can cover you until you can afford to pay an attorney.
Luckily, there are some good resources out there to help you make your own will. One website I found, DoYourOwnWill, has a helpful questionnaire with guidance and detailed instructions on how to properly execute (sign and put into effect) your will. If you’re married, you should do this with your spouse and discuss all the questions together.
Please note I’m not endorsing this as the best solution and I’m not giving you legal advice. I’m not an attorney and using DoYourOwnWill is not a substitute for an attorney. But if you don’t have a will and you’re not going to get a will because of the cost, this is better than nothing.
You’ll also find several other free estate planning documents like living wills and powers of attorney. Again, they’re still not a substitute for an attorney and you can make some major mistakes by doing it yourself – but if cost is a problem these are free solutions. Additionally, there are inexpensive estate documents you can purchase online through legalzoom.com or nolo.com. You could also look into software like Quicken WillMaker.
Hire an Experienced Attorney As Soon As Possible
If you decide to make your own will or use other free estate planning documents, please hire an attorney as soon as you can afford it. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you avoid costly mistakes and carefully consider all the decisions you must make. Make sure you shop around. Don’t settle for the first quote you get. Talk to several attorneys, stick with the ones who specialize in estate planning, and ask for referrals from your family and friends. You may also be able to get a good referral from your accountant, financial planner, real estate agent, or banker. The most expensive attorney is not necessarily the best, but do your research before you go with the cheapest option.
Do you already have your estate documents? If so, how did you get them? If not, what are you going to do? Let me know in the comments!