Thinking about the day of your death might not be your most favorite way to spend an afternoon. In fact, 60% of Americans adults haven’t taken the time to write out a will.
However, making final arrangements is crucial, especially if you have children.
The kind of lawyer who does wills practices what’s known as an estate planning attorney or probate attorney. While many general family law practitioners may also offer this service, estate planning lawyers are the experts.
If you’ve never done a will before, you might not know where to start. Can you do a will on your own or must you use a lawyer? You may even be wondering, “what kind of lawyer does wills?”
Let’s find out.
Do you need a lawyer to draft a will?
The short answer is no.
In fact, over the past decade a number of online companies have sprung up that offer downloadable wills that you simply fill in, print, get notarized at your local bank and you’re done.
My wife and I are currently in the process of doing that right now as our old wills are probably a decade old and we’ve had another daughter since we did them.
The company we used is called US Legal Forms.
I liked them as they do state specific wills which the last company I used did not. We selected “Mutual wills” which allow both of us (my wife and I) to fill in all the particulars.
You can also specify if your kids are under or over 18 and then you download your specific will to fill in. It comes with thorough instructions too and cost under $60.
US Legal forms made it incredibly quick and easy and affordable, so for most of you reading this, they will be a great choice too!
How do I find a good lawyer for my will?
You’ll probably just want to start by searching on Google or Yelp for Estate planning attorney or probate attorney and see who comes up.
Then, of course, as with anything else:
- Check reviews
- Look at their website
- See if they offer set prices or packages (you may have to call)
The benefit of having a lawyer do it is simply your time.
Doing it yourself with an online service does require a little thought and effort and depending on your area of expertize and comfort, having a knowledgable lawyer in front of you could be beneficial.
How much does it cost to have a lawyer draw up a will?
This is where online options start to look really attractive!
As I mentioned above, my wife and I are working on our will this week and we paid under $60. We’ll get it notarized at our credit union for free and we’re done.
That’s it. A total cost of under $60.
Most lawyers, on the other hand, will charge a bare minimum of $300. But that’s typically going to be with a newer lawyer for a very basic will written using a standard generic form they’ve used 1000 times (probably very similar to what you can download from US Legal Forms.
While you will obviously meet with the lawyer and go over your particulars, for the low fee of $300, lawyers are not going to spend a significant amount of time with you. If you are looking for lengthier consultation, expect to pay somewhere between $150-200 per hour on top of the flat fee.
More common, however, is for lawyers to charge a flat fee of around $1,000 for a will.
If you have a lot of assets (houses, cars, money, investments, etc) most likely you’ll need an entire estate planning package and that would most likely start around $1,500.
Can I write a will myself?
The short answer is yes, you can do whatever you like.
Anything that specifies what you want to happen to your assets and money and belongings after you die is better than nothing.
So that could be writing it down, it could be recording yourself on your phone and then emailing it to your loved ones or it could be an officially notarized will you store in a safe.
That does not, however, mean your state will recognize it legally.
Is a handwritten will legal?
The short answer is maybe, and it’s ALWAYS better than nothing.
A handwritten will is also known as a holographic will (although clearly there are no holograms involved).
A holographic will sounds like some cool sci-fi way of writing a will, doesn’t it? In reality, it simply means that you sit down and handwrite your own will without any witnesses.
If you’re bent on just writing it yourself, it would be a good idea to Google what your state’s specific requirements are on wills as it will vary state by state.
About half of the states in the US recognize this type of will. Some of those states only allow holographic wills if they are actually written entirely by hand by the person the will is for. They will not allow any other handwriting or printing on the will either.
If you don’t want to take the time to do a proper will, writing out a holographic will is better than nothing.
Make sure to sign and date your handwritten will and state that it is your last will and testament.
You’d also want to get it notarized when complete just so it can’t be contested after you’re gone, although being notarized is not always required.
Additionally, holographic wills are easier to disprove or you may even unintentionally word something wrong.
This could mean that your assets don’t end up where you wanted them to go.
States that DO NOT allow handwritten wills
According to LegalZoom, the following states do not allow handwritten (holographic) wills.
That being said, things change frequently and websites can make mistakes, so always verify ANY legal information before accepting it.
Here is the list of states that according to LegalZoom do not accept handwritten wills:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
How do I write a will without a lawyer?
If you’re going to do a holographic or handwritten will, after verifying if your state allows it, you’ll want to include the following components, minimally:
- List out your specific valuable assets
- Make it clear if you do not intend to leave everything to your spouse
- Name a guardian for your minor children in the event you and your spouse both pass away
- Name a trustee and backup trustee who will oversee the dividing of your assets
- Review beneficiaries listed on things like IRAs and 401ks as those beneficiaries listed will override whatever is stated in your will
- Look to review and possibly update your will every 5 years
To make your will binding, you should have two witnesses watch you sign the will. In most states, the witnesses must be people who will not be receiving any of your assets.
It is not necessary to notarize your will. However, doing so facilitates the court proceedings if someone challenges the legitimacy of your will.
What Kind of Lawyer Does Wills?
To make extra certain that your wishes are followed, you should see a will attorney about writing your will. This is also a good idea if you have a lot of assets or an uncommon situation.
Software can be a good choice for a straightforward will, but not for a complicated one.
The branch of law that deals with these matters is called estate planning. A good estate planning attorney can help you set up trusts, powers of attorney, and even avoid estate taxes as much as possible.
If you want to disinherit a spouse or child, they can draw up the papers accordingly. Their services will also be useful if you want to set up care for an incapacitated dependent or young kids.
Why do I need a will?
A will is there to ensure that your wishes get honored in the event of your death.
Do you have a million dollars in an IRA? Who gets that after you die? What about that expensive car you drive or that vintage comic book collection in your man cave?
But even if you don’t have millions, you still need to specify who might raise your kids in the event both you and your spouse pass away. No kids? You still want to ensure that whatever you do have gets allocated the way you want it to.
Because without a will there’s a very strong possibility of family members fighting, arguing and possibly becoming completely estranged by it not being clear who you wanted to give certain things to.
Don’t believe me? I’ve seen it!
My wife’s family still has whole segments that don’t talk to one another after her grandfather passed away and no one could reach an agreement over his assets (which weren’t even very big).
But a will is just one small part of ensuring your immediate family is protected in the event of your passing. The Right Kind of Life Insurance is also crucial to protect your family after you’re gone.
Insurance isn’t about leaving an inheritance, it’s about replacing your salary so your family doesn’t struggle financially when they are already struggling emotionally.
Did I cover all you wanted to know about what kind of lawyer does wills?
Your death isn’t something you want to think about but think about this: your family will be reeling and grieving after you’re gone.
You can help make the process easier for them by taking care of the financial aspects before you go.
So in this post, we dove deep into the world of wills, estate planning and how to do a will, both with or without a lawyer. We also reviewed some crucial steps and laws to make the process go smoother.
Not only did we answer the question of what kind of lawyer does wills, but we answered all the most typical follow-up questions too such as how much a lawyer charges and whether a handwritten will is still legal.
Now that you know what kind of lawyers do wills, you can get your will set up and you don’t have to think about it anymore.
To learn more about personal finances, don’t hesitate to check out the other posts on our blog!