Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wills: Doing it Yourself

Thanks to Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog for pointing out this USA Today article Get yourself a will: Here's a way.

I am a bit more critical of the newspaper article than was the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog . Having usual depth of USA Today, the article explains very little about the do-it-yourself Will products featured in the story. Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog's Self-Help Estate Planning Techniques Publicized faults the article for this:

I would, however, have been more comfortable with a stronger warning about the major problems that often arise when individuals do self-help estate planning. You could do open heart surgery on yourself, too, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.
I do love that phrasing of the last sentence. Reminds me of the television commercial where the surgeon is giving instruction over the telephone to the fellow about how to operate on himself. I would like a stronger warning, too.

I also find the article using the word "drafting" without explaining more scary.
Any adult of sound mind can draft a basic will on his own for a fraction of the cost of turning to a trust and estates attorney. It may not be the most comprehensive will, but at least you will have a legal document designating guardianship for your children, naming beneficiaries and specifying your last wishes. (At the same time, be sure to update beneficiary forms for any IRAs, 401(k)s and life insurance policies you have.)

Why scary? Because drafting is the least dangerous point for the do-it-yourself crowd. Execution's dangers go completely unmentioned.

The best uses for a Will drafting software package are these:
  1. To get the person using the software to think about how they want to plan their estate.
  2. To present a written plan for an attorney to work off of.