General Question

lilakess's avatar

What's the best way for me to make a legal will without going to a lawyer?

Asked by lilakess (789points) June 25th, 2007

It's very expensive to have it done by our lawyer and I want to make a will that will stand if anything happens to us. Is this worth paying the big bucks or is there some online, or other way that's legally binding? I want to determine what happens to my daughter as well, if this were to happen.

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12 Answers

figbash's avatar

I've seen this done with Will maker software (Quicken WillMaker) that allows you to complete a very basic template, then have it notarized. I'd Google it to find the cheapest software, with the best reviews.

ben's avatar

I've read numerous positive reviews for for their handling of wills... it's very inexpensive, legal-binding, and should be just what you're looking for.

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hossman's avatar

You should be able to find a decent lawyer somewhere that would do a simple will for a few hundred bucks. I'm not just saying this because I'm a lawyer (but now moving into teaching as a career) but doing your own legal documents to save a few bucks is about as smart as doing your own plastic surgery. The problem is you will have no idea whether or not the form you are using is in your best interest. The real problem is not whether you have inadvertently put together a document that is not sufficient or binding, but rather whether you have put together a document that is sufficient and binding but has unintended consequences.

Go ahead and ask legalzoom or nolo if they are liable for their work, you'll find they are not. If they aren't willing to be responsible for the quality of their product, should you be using it? Believe it or not, there is a reason lawyers have to go to law school. If you just use somebody's form, they cannot possibly have foreseen your unique circumstances. Just like other products, you get what you pay for.

In fact, I'd suggest these forms are way too expensive. When you retain a lawyer, you are purchasing his experience, specialized knowledge, and analysis of your needs. That should and does cost something. Why on earth should you be charged more than $5 for an online form? What are their expenses? A little server space? Maybe some advertising? Actually, part of what you're paying for are their defense fees, because neither legalzoom or nolo will tell you about how frequently they are defendants in lawsuits. Sadly, these are unsuccessful lawsuits, because your agreement with them will include language absolving them from any responsibility for the quality of their services.

As an example, I had a long-term client who owned a small home building company. For years, I told him he should have me review his contracts. He didn't want to pay me to do that, and insisted he had a great contract he got online.

Then he finally had a deal go bad. I defended him in the lawsuit. At trial, the judge asked him why he never had a lawyer review his contracts. The client said he didn't want to pay the legal fees. The judge told him he hoped the client had saved a lot of money, because even a poor lawyer would have seen how bad the contractual language was, and using the form contract was going to cost him $130,000 that day, because no legal talent or argument could get him out of the contract's clear but disadvantageous language. When my client asked about suing the online legal document site, I pointed out their language disclaiming any liability.

Like anything else, you get what you pay for, and sometimes less than you pay for. You won't know which until it is too late.

GD_Kimble's avatar

there are quite a few websites where you can order a "living will kit". Totally do-it-yourself, you just have to get a few things notarized, and you're all set.

gailcalled's avatar

Depends on complexity, I would say. Where there is legal guardianship for a minor, I would second Hossman and shell out a few bucks. However....

In my family, a young man was killed in an untimely accident. He had a substantial but simple estate and wrote a holographical will (online forms) 4 days before his death. Simple terms, a few bequests and witnessed properly. The state of MA declared it valid and probated it accordingly.

lilakess's avatar

Thanks Hossman. I will take your advice and find a good lawyer. You don't know anyone in the SF bay area, do you?

hossman's avatar

No, lilakess, I don't know anyone in SF. And gailcalled, one successful story doesn't mean it always works. In Kane County, Illinois, a pedophile awaiting sentencing castrated himself, hoping he would get a reduced sentence. The castration was successful, but that doesn't mean I would recommend someone else skip the doctor. Another problem I didn't mention before is when you use one of these forms while your financial picture is relatively simple, and don't upgrade or make changes when you start accruing some assets. One of my ex-partner's clients used a will "kit" to do his own will at a time he didn't have much in the way of assets, providing his wife and kids should get the first $500,000 and his alma mater the rest, which was OK when he didn't have much. A lawyer would have told him that was a horrible way to word his bequest, as it could result in the college receiving a far larger share than intended. Other problems with using forms include not providing for children born after the will is executed, adopted children, children of subsequent marriages, "cutting off" ex-spouses or rotten kids, and favorable tax treatment, which can be VERY IMPORTANT. Save a little, lose a lot. It is also VERY IMPORTANT to make sure, if you do use a form yourself, that form is valid for your jurisdiction, as an example, not all jurisdictions will accept holographic wills, require different number of witnesses, etc. Using an Illinois form for California might be a very bad idea. In fact, I'm an attorney, and I would never do my own will, as getting someone else's fresh, professional, and unbiased evaluation is important.

hossman's avatar

P.S. I don't think I'm smart enough to do my own taxes either.

Mwolfe3508's avatar

Always keep in mind You get what you pay for, if it’s “cheap” relative to what it normally costs, there’s a reason. How many Attorney’s offices have you called to ask how much it costs to do a will? Price shop them.

samosa577's avatar

Wow, a lawyer telling you to use a lawyer. It sounds like Congress not putting tort reform in a healthcare bill to reduce costs because most congressmen are lawyers. That’s like a realtor telling you to use a realtor to search for homes or a banker telling you to walk in a branch to make a withdrawal or a tax professional telling you that you shouldn’t do your taxes online when they ask you the same questions an online system would ask. Legalzoom wills are legally binding and developed by lawyers. If you have a college education, save yourself several hundred dollars and do it online. Living wills are pretty standard.

Robles's avatar

In the absence of other documents, and it if can be established to be genuine, then it would likely be considered to be a valid will by the probate court.

Have the will witnessed (at the time of notarizing) by people who are likely to outlive you. That way, they can directly testify in probate court as to the authenticity of the document.

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