Writing a will shouldn’t be that hard. There’s plenty of online help and advice, and forms readily available. Shouldn’t you be able to write your own will?
What could go wrong?
Before you consider whether to write your own will, think about the kinds of problems that might arise. If the problems are not great, and the process is simplified, you might decide to do it yourself.
You might make a technical mistake. Arizona court files are full of cases in which someone didn’t get enough witnesses, or didn’t use the right language. Most (not all) of those cases involve DIY efforts. In one, an unmarried couple acted as if they were married. In another, the signer got a notary but not the two required witnesses. Plenty of people modify their wills even though their property all belongs to the trust they created years ago.
You might not consider all the complications. Lawyers spend considerable time thinking about unplanned events. It’s not that we’re ghoulish — we just know that people become disabled, or die in unanticipated sequences. We are not counting on your children disagreeing with one another, but we have seen it happen.
You might not know all the things you should do. Most people understand that they should sign a will. But do they know that they should also sign a health care power of attorney, or a financial power of attorney? Should they consider whether they need a trust? We have some thoughts on those things, and we’d like to share them with you.
Your estate plan is more than just your will. People often have conflicting provisions. After you write your own will, what should you do about beneficiary designations? Is the answer the same for your life insurance, your bank account and your retirement account?
You won’t have a chance to go through the interview process with an expert. We (lawyers) don’t just sell documents. We sell advice, consultation and thoughtful analysis. Then we prepare documents. In a majority of initial client interviews, we hear at least one “I hadn’t thought about that.” We have thought about that.
But you’re smart, and you have the internet at your command
Indeed, you are and you do. The truth is that most often the self-prepared documents we see are adequate, if not perfectly fine.
But here’s a reality to consider: if you make a mistake, you will likely never know it. When it becomes a problem, by definition you won’t be available to fix it. We won’t even be able to ask you what you meant.
By choosing to write your own will, you also will give up the opportunity to consider other options we might suggest. You also miss the chance to find out how your will, your beneficiary designations and your other documents interrelate with one another.
We’ve thought a lot about whether you should write your own will. We write and speak about it often.
But we’re not fools. We know that you might decide to write your own will even after we tell you to come talk with us. Can we help keep you out of serious trouble? We might be able to.
Can you write your own will and then bring it to us for review?
Sure. But you won’t save any money.
Why not? Because we are not selling documents. It takes us as long to interview you and figure out what needs to be done whether you have already done some things or not. If we have to read and review your DIY documents, that actually adds more time to the process.
Could we just look over your documents and tell you if they’re OK? No, we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to assure you that the documents are fine when we weren’t involved with creating, executing or maintaining them. We’re uncomfortable putting our reputation — and our liability — on the line for other people’s work. You shouldn’t be comfortable with us if we were willing to do it.
If you really, really want to write your own will, what should you do?
We don’t mean to approve any particular program, but there are widely-accepted software packages that help you prepare estate planning documents. They are likely to keep you from making some of the most common mistakes.
If the software package you use asks a lot of questions and requires complete information, that suggests that it is designed better than the fill-in-the-blanks form you downloaded. Of course, that also means that it is more work to complete. Also, it is probably more expensive.
What should you do now?
Call us (assuming, of course, that you’re looking for a Tucson elder law attorney). Make an appointment to discuss your estate plan. Give us a chance to show you that we can help. Let us explain how we add value to the estate planning process.