Do you have a will? If not, why not? Sure, you might not have any kids, and you might not have much in the way of assets, but if you die without a will, the courts decide who gets what – and their decisions might not jive with your desires.
But lawyers are expensive, and there are now a variety of options for generating a do-it-yourself will on the cheap, so why not save a few bucks and use one of those?
Back in the day, my wife and I actually did just this… We used a copy of Nolo’s Willmaker (which has since been acquired by Intuit) to put together some very simple wills. To my untrained eye, they looked pretty solid, but lucky us, we never had to test them out.
Do it yourself estate planning?
So… Is writing your own will a good idea? Consumer Reports Money Advisor recently addressed this question by evaluating three of the most popular options for putting together a DIY will – LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Quicken Willmaker Plus. In short, they found that all three had some shortcomings.
To do this, they created wills for three different hypothetical profiles using each of these tools. They then sent the resulting wills to a law school professor for evaluation. The shortcomings that were identified included:
- Outdated estate tax information
- Insufficient detail when it comes to state-specific estate laws
- Arbitrary age limits for trusts and the inability to set up conditional bequests
- The ability to edit your will after it’s complete, or to create a special directives section, both of which could introduce inconsistencies and contradictions
- The inability to create things like a special needs trust, or to address digital assets, pets, or compensation of your executor
- An inability to handle certain tax issues
In short, while having a DIY will is better than nothing, none of these budget-minded solutions are perfect. The best option? Quicken Willmaker Plus, which was described as “competent – though far from ideal – for drawing up a simple will.”
Ultimately, you’ll probably be okay if your needs are along the lines of: If I die, my spouse gets everything, if he/she dies, I get it all, and if we both die, then Individual X (or Charity Y) gets everything. But if your needs are more complex, you’d be well advised to spend some time (and money) getting professional advice.
A few years ago, we broke down and had an attorney put together a proper estate plan, including our wills, a testamentary trust (for our kids), durable general powers of attorney, healthcare powers of attorney, and living wills.
WhileÂ hiring an attorney cost a good bit more than Willmaker, it wasn’t terribly expensive, and we certainly sleep better at night knowing that we have a solid – and legally defensible – plan in place.