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Do it yourself wills
Old 11-20-2008, 12:27 PM   #1
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Do it yourself wills

Are there any of you who have done your own wills, medical power of attorney, living will, etc. who would have suggestions and recommendations. I've run across a few simple forms on the web that seem helpful but would probably be interested in a good book that has some descriptions and help. I have some books on estate planning from the financial standpoint and am OK there. I mostly need to get the formal documents in place. Thanks!
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Old 11-20-2008, 12:41 PM   #2
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Are there any of you who have done your own wills, medical power of attorney, living will, etc. who would have suggestions and recommendations. I've run across a few simple forms on the web that seem helpful but would probably be interested in a good book that has some descriptions and help. I have some books on estate planning from the financial standpoint and am OK there. I mostly need to get the formal documents in place. Thanks!
disclaimer...i'm a FIREd engineer, not an attorney.
if you have a simple situation and your bequests follow the usual track (spouse, kids, parents, siblings), DIY is fine but i do not recommend it. i served as Alternate Executor for my mom, and Executor for my late husband. My mom's was DIY, my late husband's was done formally through an attorney. Guess which one went thru smoothly and which did not?
i personally use an estate attorney cuz i have a complicated inheritance situation. peace of mind has no price. and i KNOW my documents cannot be challenged after i'm pushing daisies.
i did my own many years ago by downloading forms from the Cornell University Law School library, www.cornell.edu and visiting the NYS Bar Association for articles about wills and HCP and Living Wills etc. i used these to put together drafts which were emailed and formalized and rounded out by my attorney. i saved myself some fees by doing that upfront work.
look for similar institutions in your home state.
NOLO puts out a good series of easy to read legal guidebooks.
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Old 11-20-2008, 12:42 PM   #3
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Nolo Press has some good books and forms for this.

Wills & Estate Planning - Resource Center
Wills & Estate Planning - Resource Center

I've used these myself. Of course, I don't know how well it will work out in my case...

If nothing else, it will give you the background and details you'll need to fill in before visiting an attorney.
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Old 11-20-2008, 12:48 PM   #4
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Disclaimer - I know nothing - don't hold me responsible for anything.

Here's a link to DIY forms for every state...

ILRG Legal Forms Archive - 2,000+ Free Legal Forms and Documents
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Old 11-20-2008, 12:52 PM   #5
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We did DIY wills using the Nolo books recommended above. We have a pretty straightforward estate right now, and are comfortable with our choice. It helps that our families are direct, sane and thoughtful -- we're not really worried about a big fight if/when we go (since we're young and healthy this is an even lesser concern).

If you've got a lot of contention in your family, it might be best to hire an attorney. Just my thoughts.
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Old 11-20-2008, 01:07 PM   #6
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If you have a taxable estate for sure I would see a lawyer.
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Old 11-20-2008, 01:10 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by freebird5825 View Post
disclaimer...i'm a FIREd engineer, not an attorney.
if you have a simple situation and your bequests follow the usual track (spouse, kids, parents, siblings), DIY is fine but i do not recommend it......

......i used these to put together drafts which were emailed and formalized and rounded out by my attorney. i saved myself some fees by doing that upfront work......

NOLO puts out a good series of easy to read legal guidebooks.
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Originally Posted by M Paquette View Post
Nolo Press has some good books and forms for this.

Wills & Estate Planning - Resource Center
Wills & Estate Planning - Resource Center

I've used these myself. Of course, I don't know how well it will work out in my case...

If nothing else, it will give you the background and details you'll need to fill in before visiting an attorney.
Disclaimer....I'm just a big kid who does nothing but play all day....everyday. But I agree with Freebird and M Paquette.....NOLO's books (and included CD's with various documents and resources on them) are excellent. They walk you through it all pretty much step-by-step, and give clear examples. If you have more than a fairly simple estate and/or wishes, you can use NOLO's stuff to get a good idea of what you want and how you want it, and then take your results and go sit down with an estate attorney to hash out the details.....to make sure the I's are dotted, and the T's are all crossed....and to make sure that what you came up with is acceptable and legal in your state. Better safe than sorry, 'cause in the end, you won't be around to say "No! That's not what I meant or wanted!" Dead men tell no tales.....nor can they clarify what was written in their last will and testament!
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Old 11-20-2008, 01:12 PM   #8
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I imagine a DIY will using NOLO's boilerplate is better than no will.
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Old 11-20-2008, 01:34 PM   #9
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If you've got a lot of contention in your family, it might be best to hire an attorney. Just my thoughts.
You've got that right! That's what we did with all of my Mom's 'end of life' paperwork....Will, POA, POA for health care, etc., etc. Only because one of my siblings, who has been a PITA before, is more than likely going to be a PITA in the future. They feel that they were short changed by our parents all of their lives.....which was never the case....so they will most likely try to cause problems when it comes time to settle Mom's estate. That's the #1 reason we had her have an estate attorney take care of everything....well worth the small fee!

Her attorney made sure that everything is exactly as she wanted it, and that everything is exactly the way it needs to be....no loopholes, no omissions, etc. Everything is spelled out very plainly in black & white. Plus all of her accounts (bank, insurance policies, investments, etc.) either are P.O.D. or have one of us as joint-owner or listed as beneficiary. The house and other personal property & affects are all specified in her will.
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Old 11-20-2008, 02:11 PM   #10
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Three words: DON'T DO IT!!!

I know this is a frugal crowd, but I have personally seen diasters coming out of WillWorks and some over programs. I am pretty sure in Wisconsin a licensed bar attorney has to sign off on estate tax stuff for it to be legit.........
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Old 11-20-2008, 02:34 PM   #11
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I used Will Maker several year ago. QuickenŽ WillMaker Plus 2009
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Old 11-20-2008, 02:41 PM   #12
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You've got that right! That's what we did with all of my Mom's 'end of life' paperwork....Will, POA, POA for health care, etc., etc. Only because one of my siblings, who has been a PITA before, is more than likely going to be a PITA in the future. They feel that they were short changed by our parents all of their lives.....which was never the case....so they will most likely try to cause problems when it comes time to settle Mom's estate. That's the #1 reason we had her have an estate attorney take care of everything....well worth the small fee!

Her attorney made sure that everything is exactly as she wanted it, and that everything is exactly the way it needs to be....no loopholes, no omissions, etc. Everything is spelled out very plainly in black & white. Plus all of her accounts (bank, insurance policies, investments, etc.) either are P.O.D. or have one of us as joint-owner or listed as beneficiary. The house and other personal property & affects are all specified in her will.
are we related? j/k
let me put it this way...a DIY will was by far the biggest nightmare my family had to deal with. As Alternate Executor, i had to have my attorney call the Executor's attorney and read him the riot act and threaten grand larceny charges due to the Executor absconding with my mom's assets while her will was in probate. it was almost declared invalid, but i had a signed original copy she had sent me recently. Yay Mom!!!
this is not a money saving area. it will cost you and your family more later.
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Old 11-20-2008, 02:49 PM   #13
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I've been an attorney for nearly 30 years, practicing in government contracts. I would NOT try to draft my own will. Perhaps if I was single and my assets were very limited I might give it a try, but anyone who has a family and substantial assets would be well-advised to see a lawyer -- one who has prepared numerous wills before. A will may appear to be a simple instrument, but there a many traps for the unwary. IMHO, drafting your own will makes about as much sense as trying to perform surgery on yourself, aided of course by a do-it-yourself book.
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Old 11-20-2008, 02:53 PM   #14
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I've been an attorney for nearly 30 years, practicing in government contracts. I would NOT try to draft my own will. Perhaps if I was single and my assets were very limited I might give it a try, but anyone who has a family and substantial assets would be well-advised to see a lawyer -- one who has prepared numerous wills before. A will may appear to be a simple instrument, but there a many traps for the unwary. IMHO, drafting your own will makes about as much sense as trying to perform surgery on yourself, aided of course by a do-it-yourself book.
I am going to borrow your last sentence, and put it in my signature, if that's ok with you........
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Old 11-20-2008, 03:17 PM   #15
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I've been an attorney for nearly 30 years, practicing in government contracts. I would NOT try to draft my own will. Perhaps if I was single and my assets were very limited I might give it a try, but anyone who has a family and substantial assets would be well-advised to see a lawyer -- one who has prepared numerous wills before. A will may appear to be a simple instrument, but there a many traps for the unwary. IMHO, drafting your own will makes about as much sense as trying to perform surgery on yourself, aided of course by a do-it-yourself book.
Thank you, sir. Case closed.

BTW, I was a PM for said contracts. We Engineers tried not to drive the legal folks too crazy.
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Old 11-20-2008, 04:33 PM   #16
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When I argue for a do-it-yourself simple will, it's with the following in mind:
1. Your personal situation is relatively simple.
2. Your estate is relatively small.
3. You have reason to believe that your will will be respected by your family.
4. You use boilerplate or forms from a reputable source.
5. You keep your brain engaged during the process.

While I agree that increasing levels of complexity provide increasing potential for major mess-ups, I remain unconvinced that using a well-researched and standard legal guide (such as a Nolo product) to write a simple will is a guarantee of disaster.

Indeed, I think a greater disaster would be to die without a will, leaving the disposition of your estate solely to the discretion of the courts.

There are other standard legal do-it-yourself forms out there that don't seem to be particularly problematic (health care directives come to mind), so I'm skeptical of claims that only an attorney can prepare a legal document that will hold up in court. No disrespect intended to attorneys in general, and I realize that they have a high level of legal training that is necessary for the more complicated maneuvers in our lives (irrevocable/revocable trusts, for example).
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Old 11-20-2008, 04:39 PM   #17
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I've been an attorney for nearly 30 years................. IMHO, drafting your own will makes about as much sense as trying to perform surgery on yourself, aided of course by a do-it-yourself book.
Call me a skeptic, but I see a tiny opportunity for conflict of interest here.

Any other attorneys care to comment on the will preparation process - i. e. do you use canned software to generate a will similar to the do it yourself kits, then bless it as applicable to the client at hand?
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Old 11-20-2008, 05:04 PM   #18
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Why a conflict? He isn't looking for business here.

What attorneys are able to do and are trained to do is think about all the bad things that can happen and how to avoid them. In fact, I just read that attorneys score far higher on pessimism than the average person. It is all that thinking about the worst case. Estate planning attorneys also have the training to figure out the best way to minimize taxes while still effecting your intentions and they can give you ideas you never thought about so you may change your intentions as part of the process. I know that we did.

Some parts of the docs prepared are boilerplate or a choice among options. Other parts may be designed for you. But what you need and how to get there is the value added by the estate planner.

That said, if you have minimal assets, don't have prior families, illegitimate children, unusual assets, etc.,etc., etc., and plan to leave your stuff to your spouse, and if your spouse is dead to your kids, then a respected kit may be fine. Keep in mind issues with assets that don't pass through a will, such as joint assets and assets with beneficiary designations. There may be consequences with these assets. Joint account with a child? Can a creditor of your child get the account? Do you know? What about putting your house in a life estate with your kids? What happens if the kids get divorced? Or have financial problems? Do you know?

I also am a lawyer and did not do my own will. There were complications. Taxable estate. No children. Trust for disabled family members, and a few other issues.

Mistakes are costly. And don't forget, the rules change and your situation changes so you need to revisit your estate plan regularly.
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Old 11-20-2008, 05:12 PM   #19
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People can get themselves in odd binds. I just remembered a situation with some people I heard about. They opened accounts in their children's names and gifted the max into the accounts every year. The accounts had their adult children's social security numbers. The 1099 went to the parents address and was ignored. Someone had a big tax problem. Who?
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Old 11-20-2008, 05:21 PM   #20
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..........

Some parts of the docs prepared are boilerplate or a choice among options. Other parts may be designed for you. But what you need and how to get there is the value added by the estate planner.

...........
Thanks Martha, what I was driving at is how to get the most value for your legal expense $$, which I think is a priority for most of us. Is there prework that the average Joe do to maximize the value added ?
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