last will and testament software

Anyone have any information on these software packages for doing your own will, etc? How legal are they, are there guarantees, regulation, what about changes to the statues? I’ve been thinking about getting one, but want to make sure it’s legit first,
thanks, Larry

Larry, I’ll be honest with you. I shamefacedly admit to buying one of these software packages. I spent a great deal more time “filling in the blanks” than I would have spent in a good attorney’s office (and my time is NOT cheap), only to realize I would still have to register the will in my state. I ultimately spent about an hour with a good attorney and now have a registered will. <shrug> It’s your call.

“There will always be somebody who’s never read a book who’ll know twice what you know.” - D.Duchovny

Wills that you write yourself are valid in every state, with some qualifications. Since each state is different, you would need to check the requirements in your own state for validity. For example, in some states if you totally handwrite your will, you don’t need witnesses. I DO NOT recommend this procedure, unless all you are doing is leaving your favorite books and records to your latest lover.

Let me tell you that I have been a lawyer for more than fifteen years, and I DID write my own will, and it was difficult to do (this is admittedly not my area of practice). If you own anything of significance, or if you have children, I urge you to spend the money and have a professional do the job. (And be sure to get somebody who specializes.) The reason is simply that if you have minor children you will need to nominate a “guardian of the person” (the person who will physically raise your children when you are gone) and a “guardian of the estate” (the person who will take care of your children’s money until they are grown). If you have any substantial assets, or life insurance, you will likely want to set up a Children’s Trust, so that their guardian can draw on funds to support them, but also so that you can have some control over how the money is spent and at what point the principal is turned over to the kids. For example, together my husband and I have over a million dollars in life insurance on us. If something were to happen to both of us, we want that money in trust to put the boys through college, and be distributed thereafter. I DON’T want each boy getting his 1/3 of that million at age 18. If you don’t properly deal with these issues, this is the sort of thing that happens.

That being said, if you have no children and have little in the way of assets (including no real estate) then a software package may be fine. You will essentially be identifying the things you own, and what money you may have, and designating where they go (“I leave great-grandmother’s wedding ring to my sister Janet”). Oh, and think percentages rather than dollar amounts. Don’t consider the $10,000 you have in the bank and say “I leave $5,000 to my favorite charity and $5,000 to my nephew James.” Instead, leave each of them 50% of your savings account in Bank Named, etc.

This can get so complicated – that’s really why I suggest a professional. Good luck!

-Melin, Esq.

The problem with do-it-yourself wills is that if you have so few assets that your will would be an extremely “simple” one, then you probably don’t need a will at all. If you have assets enough to merit a will, then you’d want it to be done professionally.

The pit-fall here is that the requirements to make a will effective vary from state to state – some require registration, some do not, some recognize holographic wills (hand-written and signed by the testator), some do not – and if you don’t do everything exactly right, the will is probably invalid. Having an invalid will is the same as having no will, which means you die “intestate,” the state steps in and helps itself to a larger share via taxes, maybe your wife/husband/kids don’t have enough to live on, and your prize autographed baseball goes to your cousin Louie whom you despise. If you have enough assets to want to dispose of them in a particular way, go get a will done professionally. It won’t ever mean anything to you, but your heirs will thank you for it.

Jodi (another lawyer, but also not an wills/estates lawyer)