What do I need to know?
You need to know how to retain a lawyer. Be sure the lawyer has depth of experience in wills and estates.
You need to know that you probably shouldn’t do it. Wills and estates are complicated, and there are probably all sorts of things that you haven’t thought of. If you screw it up, you can create a real pain in the ass for your heirs.
A consultation with a qualified lawyer who knows about estate issues can save you and your heirs a lot of headaches down the road.
IANAL, but even I know that lawyers have very specific ways of saying things that are accepted and have been used for years. When you don’t say things in exactly the way they are expected, then they are open to interpretation and you open up a whole big messy can of worms. If your will gets challenged then what you intended could end up completely invalidated and almost nothing of yours ends up where you want it to.
So the answer to “What do I need to know” is basically you need the equivalent of a law degree and a few years of practical experience as a lawyer. Without actually being a lawyer, that’s difficult to get.
What you want is a lawyer who specializes in probate and trust law; that’s essentially wills and the probation of said wills after someone kicks the bucket.
I wouldn’t fuck around with doing it yourself; my wife specialized in probate and trust in law school, and she’s told me things about the way that probate court, wills and estates work that I had no idea were true.
For example, most mortgages that are jointly held come immediately due on the death of one of the mortgage holders. I had no idea… and I’ll bet that’s a surprise to many a surviving spouse as well.
To answer your question without telling you to see a lawyer, you need to think about:
- are you talking about real estate or other high -dollar items? If so, you really need a lawyer.
- are you talking about furniture? Is it valuable?
- are you talking about personal items, such as trinkets or clothing?
Do you have someone in mind that you trust to distribute the items the way you want them to go?
The nest-to-last time I saw my Grandmother, she loaded me down with things she wanted me to have - my greatgrandfather’s cherrywood rocker, some silver spoons, a rug my mother and I had made for her… . I protested “Grandma, I feel like a vulture!”. She told me these were things she wanted me to have, and she didn’t want them to get “lost in the shuffle” after she passed.
That is another way to handle things if you thing there will be confusion or ill will after your passing - go ahead and give the items to the person you want to have them.
If you are determined to go ahead without a will, at least research the requirements of your state. If you have anything of significant value, or if there is any possibility of people fighting over your estate, see a lawyer.
IANAL, this advice is taken at your own risk, lather rinse and repeat, do not use on cats or small children…
I have no wife, no children and no property except an old car and apartment effects
and I will be damned if I should need a lawyer just to will my assets to my brother
and sister 50-50.
NC, my residence, ludicrously has a PC printable standard Muslim will, but no such thing
that I have been able fine for the rest of us. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. I plan to look again.
I recently did mine through LegalZoom.com. It was incredibly easy.
Some jurisdictions have very specific requirements for DIY wills. For example, in my jurisdiction, a DIY will is only valid if it is handwritten (among other requirements). This excludes “DIY will kits” that are purchased from office supply stores, as well as homemade typed-up-on-the-computer wills. You would do well to at least buy a half-hour of a lawyer’s time to canvass the requirements for a DIY will in your jurisdiction.
FWIW, I have only seen “happy” outcomes of DIY wills when the testator is single and leaves everything to one person: a sibling, or similar. Be aware that, depending on jurisdiction and your family relations, claims could be lodged against your DIY will.
A lawyer can help you to make sure that what you want to go to a beneficiary, will actually go to that beneficiary. Even if you proceed to do-it-yourself, many lawyers will gladly advise on the finer points for a reasonable cost. It’s a worthwhile investment.
For purposes of googling, the term to use is “holographic will.”
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that DIY wills in Spoons’ jurisdiction must only be holographic wills, but rather that DIY wills must follow the formalities of either s. 15 “formal will” (necessitating writing and witnesses) or s. 16 “holographic will” (necessitating handwriting), without mixing them up.
If you have no real estate, and not much assets, yes just a form (& notarized) or a holographic will is fine.
I also suggest that you put your bene on all your bank accounts & retirements funds as a beneficiary. This makes it very easy.
Make sure to set up beneficiaries on retirement accounts, some brokerage and bank accounts can have “transfer on death” options.
Also check out Nolo Press.
Consumer Reports did a story on this, this issue. Basically it boiled down to, you really should get an attorney. But if it’s really and truly a total no-brainer there are some online resources such as nolo and two others I cannot remember.
IANAL. You should probably get one.
Having said that, I will tell you what I know about the subject, some of it quite possibly wrong. For many people, much of what they own will pass to a beneficiary outside of probate (i.e. regardless of what you say in your will). For instance, if you have a bank account (or any kind of financial account), you very likely specified a beneficiary (and possibly a secondary beneficiary) when you opened your account. If that beneficiary is still alive when you die, whatever is in your account will go to them, regardless of what your will says. Keep that in mind when preparing your will. You should periodically review those arrangements. Some people specify that the account should pass to your estate, which means that the will controls who gets the money. For instance, if it is your intention to split everything you own among your three children (and specify that in your will), but you have named the oldest as the beneficiary in your stock account, this will mean trouble (not for you, but for your family). I suspect for many people, there is a disconnect between what they intend to do and what they end up doing. This is why you need a lawyer.
Another consideration in creating a will without a lawyer is to make sure that the will is “self proving”. This means that the witnesses need to sign another document, which should be notarized. All this is, of course, subject to the laws in your state, of which I am even more ignorant than I am of the laws in my state.
A will is in legal document. The complex part is not divvying up your dirty underwear… it’s assigning legal authority to someone to grant them access to bank accounts, etc and to appoint an executor, someone responsible for settling taxes, etc.
Many attorneys charge a flat fee for producing a will. If you don’t want to pay the ~$200 for a lawyer to draw up the will, or even the $75 for a do-it-yourself kit from LegalZoom, you should at least be aware that your brother and sister will end up paying more than that to sort things out when you are gone.
My grandfather recently died in Spoons’s jurisdiction, leaving a handwritten will that in theory is perfectly legal.
The executor he named was apparently not consulted about being executor, and (sensibly) refused to do it.
Three of the four main heirs immediately decided not to abide by the terms of the will, and since there was no lawyer, there was no one to prevent them from screwing it up, which they have proceeded to do. Royally.
I know I am specifically mentioned in the will, but three months after his demise I have yet to be informed of this fact by anything other than word of mouth, and what I hear by word of mouth is astounding. People who are otherwise nice and reasonably intelligent have turned off judgement. To be kind, it’s grief, but to be unkind it’s greed.
Don’t write your own will.
It may vary in some cases by location. Our lawyer in Utah said just write it out, called it a holistic will I think, and have a couple of persons witness a signature. About three decades later, in Nevada, we got a very different set of instructions. The Senior Center had some booklets prepared by the state and we had to fill specific instructions in the booklet, then have it witnessed.
IANAL, and you probably ought to get one. My advice is worth what you paid for it, and could quite possibly be erroneous in your state.
You can write your own will, but if you choose to do so, I suggest you be exceedingly clear about each point in it; and leave nothing to interpretation or fighting. ie: " I leave my collection of lightly fossilized dog turds to Sally McGee and nothing more." or " I wish that my residence and land be sold by Johnny; and Johnny, Sally, and Bob each receive an equal share of the proceeds after all debts, fees, and other expenses have been settled wholly out of the proceeds from the sale. Should there be nothing left after this process then they may share equally in nothing." Should you choose to be lazy and simply appoint an executor of the estate or will, then discuss that ahead of time and make the proper legal arrangements with your bank, and other associated companies before your death.
I should be able to assign to my heirs legal authority for access and to appoint
them co-executors without having to get anyone else involved except for witnesses,
and some quickie judicial sign-off after I am in the ground.
I intend to avoid fees to the fullest possible extent.
Although my estate is modest, it is not so modest that my brother and sister
should mind having to incur a few hundred dollars expense to wrap things up.