Technically speaking, you could scrawl your wishes down on a spare sheet of paper and make it legal with a proper signature and witness. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best option.
Remember: a will is a vital document for the legal distribution of assets to your loved ones should something happen to you. Isn’t that something worth investing time and care to make sure it’s done right? While you may be able to save significant money with a do-it-yourself will, you can easily overlook important details that could eventually cost you far more than the amount you could save.
In general you should only write your own will if your wishes are very simple. If there’s anything remotely complex, you should probably hire an attorney or use a will writing service.
When you absolutely shouldn’t write your own will:
You should definitely solicit professional help to write your will if:
—You’re trying to reduce your Inheritance Tax bill (a financial professional will have plenty of tips)
—You are willing assets to step-children or a significant other to whom you aren’t married
—You own a business that you’re leaving to someone as part of your will
—You own property abroad
—You have foreign investments or bank accounts
—You have people who are financially dependent on you other than your immediate family
—Your will includes any wishes that might be misunderstood or are even slightly complex
Risks and pitfalls of DIY wills:
Since we’re all human and bound to make errors, it’s a good idea to ask a professional to assist you with important documents like wills. Following are some of the risks you assume when you draft your own will:
—The companies that supply online templates won’t take responsibility if your will is incorrectly drafted. This means if you make mistakes that cause problems when your will is read, there will be no legal consequences.
—Certain errors could make your will completely invalid. This means the government will decide who will receive your money and property.
—Failure to take state law differences into account could cause your will to contain errors. An estate planning attorney will inform you of state laws regarding the administration of probate or trusts, however many will kits and online wills and trusts fail to inform you of such information.
—Failing to include necessary information to address the fine points of your estate could result in major issues. While software or an online form can help you draft a will, there is no guarantee the technology will ask you the specific, questions an attorney might pose in regard to the unique details of your estate. It may not even make you aware of them.
—Not revoking an earlier will could mean your wishes won’t be carried out. Most wills contain specific language that automatically revokes any preceding will. But if you’re doing a DIY will, you may not realize the necessity of such a clause.
—Failure to get your will notarized. Regardless of how “official” your homemade will looks, it still requires witnessing and signing to be legally valid. There are many stories of people finding out that the will or living trust they paid money for is not actually binding as it has never been notarized.
Note: Wills, trusts, and estate plans should be crafted with the help of attorneys. Fortunately, many financial professionals have relationships with attorneys. Instead of searching the Internet or the Yellow Pages for a stranger, ask the financial advisor you consult for a referral.
If you do decide to write your own will:
If you’re dead set on writing your own will, make sure you’ve thoroughly covered the following key points:
—Make sure the will is signed, dated and witnessed correctly. The template should show you what you need to do.
—Carefully check your spelling – be extra careful with the spelling of people’s names.
—Be specific – for example, don’t just leave everything to ‘my wife’ – use your wife’s full name.
—Destroy any old wills – if you already have a will, make sure you destroy the old one and make sure the new one clearly states that it revokes the old one. The template you use should give you instructions on how to do this properly.
—Tell your executor where the will is to be kept. They’ll need to know when you die.