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Barring some sort of miracle or change to the laws of nature, you should be able to go through your whole life and never need a will. Nevertheless, you really should have one.  Not for yourself, but for those that you leave behind. Having a will makes the transfer of your possessions much simpler for the friends and family that survive you (and quite often “simpler” equals “cheaper”).

What’s a will?

A will is a document signed by you (and hopefully two witnesses) that tells the world what you want to have happen to your stuff when you pass away.  In essence, it is the blueprint for an orderly transfer of property from you (actually your estate) to wherever it’s supposed to go. The estate is a legal fiction.  When we die we can no longer own property.  So, when we pass away, as if by magic our property automatically goes from ourselves to our estate.  The estate is like a big imaginary bucket that holds many of the things we owned.  The will is the blueprint for moving the things in the bucket to our intended beneficiaries – like spouses, kids, churches, etc.

Not everything goes into the estate.  The typical items that end up in the estate are:

  • your car;
  • your jewelry and other personal possessions;
  • bank accounts;
  • land;
  • houses;
  • debts; and
  • legal claims and money owed to you.

On the other hand the following typically does not end up in the estate (note that some items appear to overlap):

  • your retirement;
  • bank accounts if it was a joint account;
  • land if if was held “jointly” with “survivorship;”
  • houses if held “jointly” with “survivorship”
  • insurance

What does this mean?  It means that the rules about what happens to our things after we pass away are complicated and worth talking to an attorney about.

Can I Write My Own Will?

You’re allowed to. And it might even work.  But it’s a lot of risk to take.  As Browne House Law has previously pointed out, when it comes to probate, formalities matter. If you write your own will you run at least two main risks:

  1. that your homemade will (sometimes called a “holographic will”) might not be valid; and
  2. that your holographic will won’t do what you mean it to do.

What about a form will from the internet?

Bad idea.  A form from the internet lowers the risk that your will might not be valid, but it does little to nothing to lower the risk of doing something other than what you mean to do.  The other concern about forms on the internet is that they might not reflect the needs and practices of local courts.  By hiring an attorney in the state where you live they can address concerns that may arise when the will is probated – like whether there should be a bond, or inventory, and what should be waived or not waived for your executor.

Is it expensive to have an attorney write my will?

Nope.  You get what you pay for, but a will is one of the lower priced services you are likely to get at a law firm.  Furthermore, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  While it may cost you a modest amount to have a will professionally prepared for you, if your heirs fight about even the most minor aspect of your estate, it is likely to cost them many more times that to work their legal problems out.

What should I bring to meet with my attorney?

When you make an appointment with an attorney, go to the meeting with a few things in mind:

  1. Who should be in charge of my estate, and if they can’t or don’t want to do it, who should be the backup?
  2. If you have children and neither parent was available, who would you want to be their guardian?
  3. What items of value (homes, land, bank accounts, other valuables, etc.) do you own and what do you want to do with them?

Lastly, and most importantly, have you talked to your heirs about what you intend to have happen when you pass away.  Doing so, while uncomfortable, can help create expectations that avoid conflict at a difficult time in their lives.  So, after you’ve prepared one with your attorney, talk to your friends and family about your will – and where to find it!

If you’re thinking about creating or modifying your last will and testament, contact Jason and the other Browne House Law attorneys about preparing your will today.  Don’t wait.