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Can I write my own Will?

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I have been thinking about writing Will, but it's unfairly expensive and purposely made to appear complicated IMO.
Mine is very basic. In case if I die early my wife has to have access to all my accounts and the money, and the life insurance, right away without any delay or complications.
And in case both of us die before my kids grow up, they have to be taken care by whoever I specify as guardian. The guardian can use a specified amount of money for the kids' expenses. When the kids are legally ready, all the remaining money and the house, cars, etc should be given to them.
It doesn't sound complicated to me. But I don't understand why it's been made a big deal, and charging big money for it. May be it's complicated for some people with more money and many assets.

My question is, can I type similar to what I wrote above, and get a notary or something and give a copy to the person I wish to be the guardian? Will that work?
 

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Don't forget to pay your friend 30% or so, since you are mooching off the product he PAID a lawyer to prepare. Oh wait, ... (more)

Technologist (May. 18, 2017 @ 10:03p) |

OP, check to see if your state has a statutory will. It's a will that's written into the law with fill-in-the-blanks whi... (more)

highmktgoods (May. 19, 2017 @ 5:43a) |

The short answer is that you should probably not expect your will to be a one-and-done document. Executor or guardian ci... (more)

Shandril (May. 23, 2017 @ 7:49a) |

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rated:
IANAL

What is legal will depend on state laws. Might need multiple witnesses, etc.



There are a lot of cheap DIY options for wills.
Will software is around $30.
https://www.doyourownwill.com/
this is $12 : https://www.amazon.com/Adams-Testament-Forms-Instructions-LF235/...


I don't know how well any of them hold up.

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If your estate goe to probate you're doing it wrong.

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You only get ONE chance to get it right. A few hundred dollars to a lawyer is probably a good investment. IANAL

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gangt said:   I have been thinking about writing Will, but it's unfairly expensive and purposely made to appear complicated IMO.
Mine is very basic. In case if I die early my wife has to have access to all my accounts and the money, and the life insurance, right away without any delay or complications.
And in case both of us die before my kids grow up, they have to be taken care by whoever I specify as guardian. The guardian can use a specified amount of money for the kids' expenses. When the kids are legally ready, all the remaining money and the house, cars, etc should be given to them.
It doesn't sound complicated to me. But I don't understand why it's been made a big deal, and charging big money for it. May be it's complicated for some people with more money and many assets.

My question is, can I type similar to what I wrote above, and get a notary or something and give a copy to the person I wish to be the guardian? Will that work?

  
That doesn't sound so "simple".    Also depends on how much assets you're talking about.  With regular will things might go through probate court, where they take fee of all your asset - and your kids might be forced to sell the house - to satisfy the probate court fee.

You can do a simple will i think site like legal zoom ... but realistically, you should get a lawyer.   They might suggest simple will in the beginning, and later if it make sense to have a trust.

 

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Probate rules vary state to state and can also depend on the size of your estate. Probate costs can be considerable and consulting a lawyer now can be well worth it just to try and avoid / minimize probate costs.

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You can scribble a will on the back of a napkin for all anyone cares - as long as it's properly witnessed, it's as valid as one you pay thousands to be prepared.

The real problem is if/when the will is contested.  It could be asset distribution, it could be custody of the children.  Even if you can't imagine anyone causing problems, it is in fact what you can't imagine that you need to be worried about.  That's the value of having it professionally prepared.

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There are fairly simple wills that you can write yourself, have witnessed and notarized that are legal and will stand up in court. There are simple ways to give your wife legal access to your assets without court intervention. You could appoint her as Independent Executor and some pre planning and naming of accounts now will make that much easier. You could possibly find a template for your state on line. But your will is not simple. I suggest that you get some legal advice even if you do write the will yourself. Good luck!

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The simplest will that I know of was written by a dying sailor. "All to Mama" It is cited in several of my history classes.

Being a surviving child, and seeing my brother in law die of a heart attack, I can tell you from personal experience. What you describe is NOT a simple will. You need a lawyer. What you can do is join some lawyer service company such as Hyatt legal plan for an annual membership fee. That includes will writing service and some other simple lawyer services. I had such a service as an employee benefit many years ago. Different plan but same concept.

rated:
gangt said:   I have been thinking about writing Will, but it's unfairly expensive and purposely made to appear complicated IMO.
Mine is very basic. In case if I die early my wife has to have access to all my accounts and the money, and the life insurance, right away without any delay or complications.
And in case both of us die before my kids grow up, they have to be taken care by whoever I specify as guardian. The guardian can use a specified amount of money for the kids' expenses. When the kids are legally ready, all the remaining money and the house, cars, etc should be given to them.
It doesn't sound complicated to me. But I don't understand why it's been made a big deal, and charging big money for it. May be it's complicated for some people with more money and many assets.

My question is, can I type similar to what I wrote above, and get a notary or something and give a copy to the person I wish to be the guardian? Will that work?

  I'm a big fan of DIY. I think people can do certain things related to the law themselves. I don't think a will is one of them. As a DIYer and a lawyer I was very pleased with the decision to hire an estate lawyer to do this. The rules are very specific and they are complicated (that's why they appear complicated). I was told it wasn't the best idea to use a will for financial accounts (except to the extent it references other documents). If you are using a will for that, it makes the risk of a challenge even more likely. Also, when there are kids involved it's never simple. Lets say you name a couple as the guardians and they split up. Who gets the kids? What if they die before or at the same time as you? There are a lot of scenarios that you need to consider and without any knowledge going in, you will probably miss some.

You also need to understand a lot of other general matters. If you move to another state, are your wills still valid in that state? What are the determinations that go into having a single will for you and your spouse vs. separate wills. Does your spouse already have a will? Do you? What happens to those wills? What happens if you and your wife die at the same time? What if one of you dies then the next dies the next day? Wills are complicated because there are a lot of scenarios and you have to know how your state treats different scenarios.

This is all part of the substantive aspects. Are you familiar with all of other the requirements to have a valid will? How many witnesses do you need? Do the witnesses have to sign the document together? Who should keep the document? What do you need to do if you want to invalidate it?

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I make the obligatory "IANAL" proclamation as well.  But it occurs to me that the OP, in his OP, has already indicated elements that in many states would involve both a will and  a (somewhat dovetailing) trust, to be integrated in lockstep with the aforesaid will.
 
The state of domicile is critical here, and so far OP hasn't told us that.  But in almost all  states only a will, not a trust, can name a guardian for underage children.  (OP states that he wants to name a guardian.)
 
And in almost all states, a trust will be required to define and delineate a "bucket" of money or other assets that will be used to support the, aforesaid, underage children, as time goes by.  ("The guardian can use a specified amount of money for the kids' expenses.")
 
So OP may need both a will and a trust.  Which auto-magically makes it "not simple".  Therefore OP should consult a lawyer who is 1) a true "estate lawyer", and is 2) not just licensed but eminently experienced, in whatever state OP is domiciled in.
 

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gangt said:   ....In case if I die early my wife has to have access to all my accounts and the money, and the life insurance, right away without any delay or complications....
  She doesn't have access to all your monies now? INAL of any kind.

rated:
Some big employers offer basic free legal services to their employees as a benefit. Check w/ your HR department to see if yours does.

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IANAL, just a guy who has gone through this a few times with family members and friends.

Can you?  Most certainly yes.
Should you?  Probably not.

As already said, there's only one chance to get it right.  You can't fix it after you're gone.

Also as already stated, put your wife as joint owner on all of your accounts.  Then it doesn't matter so much - she'll have ongoing access to the funds more than she would if you had a will and it ended up in probate or contested.

If you want to do a bunch of rules/conditions for guardianship, you can do that in a will or a trust.

Again, IANAL and IANYL, but I've seen it go bad enough times that I feel it's money well spent to ensure your desires are adequately documented.  You should also have reciprocal health care power of attorney in place between you and your wife - have these discussions about your level of care and end of life desires now, not when it is too late and you end up making your spouse responsible for decisions they'll have to live with forever.  If it is in writing, it mitigates some of the emotional burden when family has to make end-of-life choices for a loved one.

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Reminds me of a situation where upon learning of a death, a bank froze all accounts. Wife could not pay bills, etc. YMMV, but documents need to be in place (on file) with the bank to at least pay normal bills like the mortgage.

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gangt said:   In case if I die early my wife has to have access to all my accounts and the money, and the life insurance, right away without any delay or complications.

 

 Assuming there is a reason you don't want your wife to be joint on your accounts, the easiest and quickest thing you can do is make her beneficiary of your accounts. All she has to do then is contact the institutions that hold your accounts and notify them of your death. They'll send her forms to fill out which she'll have to return with a certified copy of your death certificate. Then it's just a matter of waiting for the check(s) or auto-deposits to make it into her accounts.

However, this isn't an instant process. I just checked the dates regarding money I received as beneficiary several years ago. It took about 3 months after the death before I got the payout from a retirement account. The life insurance was the quickest payout, but even that can take up to 30 days.

Best thing, besides doing the above, is to have some money in an account she can access immediately, joint or in her name alone, so she and the kids can eat and pay bills until she gets the money.

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IMO, one of the best strategy is first to educate yourself about the issues and the possibilities. You can very cheaply get a DIY will/trust software that will guide you through interviews like tax software. That'll give you an idea of the options out there, the scenarii to consider, get yourself organized with the information you need, etc. Think of it as homework prep.

But then, I'd have a lawyer review your info and help you find the best setup for your family situation. The less hand-holding you'll need the cheaper it'll be.

Of course, you could get away with doing it all by yourself but how wise that is depends a lot on your family situation. If there's very little chance for your DIY will to be contested, if most of your assets are in accounts (like life insurance or retirement accounts) with designated beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries (and thus will bypass probate), etc... the lower your needs because the lower the assets left for probate to distribute. But there's always a risk. You just have to decide if that risk is worth spending the extra $ to get the will done by a proper estate lawyer. For most people, the extra cost is probably worth it, if only for the peace of mind. You may shell out 1% of your assets for making sure it get transferred to your heirs optimally. Chances are you pay your mutual fund manager about as much annually for doing something much less critical.

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A question for the people who have done it: Who do you choose as the executor? (Assuming you and your spuse die together, in an accident, since your spouse will be the executor for sure otherwise). I guess a family member or a close friend right? What if that family member or close friend passes away before you die? Or you fight with them and never speak again? Or your friend moves to Australia? You have to update your will. Now you have to pay the lawyer again? Find witnesses to sign again?

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oko said:   A question for the people who have done it: Who do you choose as the executor? (Assuming you and your spuse die together, in an accident, since your spouse will be the executor for sure otherwise). I guess a family member or a close friend right? What if that family member or close friend passes away before you die? Or you fight with them and never speak again? Or your friend moves to Australia? You have to update your will. Now you have to pay the lawyer again? Find witnesses to sign again?
  This has ALWAYS been my major pain point. What happens IF x, y, or z happen? Specifically, I don't know where to draw the line in the sand with regard to guardian of my daughter. 

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Find someone in a situations similar to yours, who already hired a lawyer to do their will/trust. If they will allow you to read it copy it with your own changes. Get it all ready and then go to see a lawyer. He shouldn't have to charge you very much to read an approve it or make minor changes. YMMV

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I would do it with software like Quicken Willmaker etc.

Similar to how people do their own taxes (equally or more complicated) with TurboTax.

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even a DIY will should be better than nothing.

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junkmail9572 said:   Find someone in a situations similar to yours, who already hired a lawyer to do their will/trust. If they will allow you to read it copy it with your own changes. Get it all ready and then go to see a lawyer. He shouldn't have to charge you very much to read an approve it or make minor changes. YMMV
  Don't forget to pay your friend 30% or so, since you are mooching off the product he PAID a lawyer to prepare. Oh wait, you thought you could mooch off friends for free?  No wonder you have no frineds...

That last bit was sarcasm, to show that TRADE w/friends works, only if you actually TRADE, rather than MOOCH!  It was NOT directly aimed at the person I quoted!!

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OP, check to see if your state has a statutory will. It's a will that's written into the law with fill-in-the-blanks which is presumed valid if used. We have this in Michigan. You need to use your own state's will though, because will laws vary by state.

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oko said:   A question for the people who have done it: Who do you choose as the executor? (Assuming you and your spuse die together, in an accident, since your spouse will be the executor for sure otherwise). I guess a family member or a close friend right? What if that family member or close friend passes away before you die? Or you fight with them and never speak again? Or your friend moves to Australia? You have to update your will. Now you have to pay the lawyer again? Find witnesses to sign again?
The short answer is that you should probably not expect your will to be a one-and-done document. Executor or guardian circumstances may make them no longer suitable to handle their responsibilities. If you understand the will well enough however, just edit the parts that need changing due to life circumstances, then sign it in front of witnesses again and have it recorded properly. For minor like-for-like changes, like replacing one executor by another, you shouldn't need a lawyer. For more complex changes, you may still need a lawyer to validate them for peace of mind.  Also consider potential for those changes in circumstances when selecting guardians and executors. Your family member who moves between countries for work every other year may not be a great choice. Neither would your 97-year old grandfather.

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