Thomas J. Scribner
(Please understand that the answers to these questions are general in nature and may not cover every individual situation.)
Do I need a will? Can I make one myself? Do I need a lawyer to draft it?
Do I need a will?
You only need a will if you have any assets you want to pass on. It is an unavoidable fact we will each die and someone is going to deal with our “stuff.” A will is the document which instructs who that someone is and how he or she is to distribute your assets That way your assets go where you want them to go.
Wills have been around for a long time and are relatively inexpensive to have drafted. If you don’t have a will, the state has drafted one for you. It is a one-size-fits-all model that changes every few years. Currently, if you are married and all of your children are also your spouse’s children (a first marriage), everything will go your spouse when you die. If it is a second marriage and there are children in the family who are not also your spouses, then your spouse gets the first $75,000 and the rest is split 50-50 between the spouse and the other children. That is not a pleasant mess to leave for your heirs to fight over. If your current family situation has children from more than one couple, has a child with special needs, or has a spouse or child who can’t handle money, you must make sure you have a will (as well as a trust).
Can I make my own will?
Yes you can and the court will bend over backwards to help interpret it. A will that is in your own handwriting and is signed and dated by you is called a holographic will. The classic example of this is the will written by a solider in battle. The fact that the court will try to figure out what you meant does not mean it is in your best interest to handwrite a will and call it good. Without doubt many times more money will be spent with court costs and attorney’s fees getting the will interpreted than if you spent a modest amount on getting a will professionally drafted.
Do I need a lawyer to draft my will?
There are many sources on the internet and in bookstores with blank will forms and if your situation perfectly matches the form, you might be okay. Never-the-less, lawyers have specific education and testing on how to draft wills, what the many issues are involving testate succession and actually understand the words in the will and which words, clauses and paragraphs should be used. You aren’t really paying for the words as much as the experience and training of the lawyer to make sure it is done right.
Unless there is no house or other titled property to pass on, most wills are accompanied by a trust, which is the subject of Trusts.