Add This ‘Useless’ Task to Your To-Do List Now

Doc’s note: Hiring someone to write a will can be expensive. And not everyone needs the extensive help a lawyer offers. So today, I’m sharing a story from Health & Wealth Bulletin Managing Editor Laura Bente. In it, Laura explains how she easily saved hundreds of dollars by creating her own will…

“Why are you writing a will?”

That was the reaction when I (Laura) told my friends and family that I was writing my will.

I wasn’t surprised. As my colleague Amanda Cuocci explained last week, only 42% of adults have a will or a living-trust document.

And for someone like me, a single, thirty-something with no dependents, it might seem unnecessary.

But when you die without a will, you don’t get to decide what happens to whatever you leave behind… The state takes on that responsibility.

For example, if I were to die without a will here in Maryland, the state would identify my assets (like real estate and bank accounts), pay funeral expenses and taxes, and distribute assets to heirs. The heir who would get your assets would likely be your closest relative. This can take a year or longer.

My will is straightforward, and I don’t have a lot of heirs or too many assets to complicate it. But I don’t want the state of Maryland deciding what to do with my money. And I don’t want the process to drag on for my loved ones.

The problem is that hiring someone to write a will can be expensive.

The average cost of a will is about $375, according to document-preparation site Legal Zoom. But if you need any additional documents (like power of attorney or a living will), it can cost more than $1,000.

There’s no need to pay that much… And to show you why, I tested the do-it-yourself route.

There are lots of different programs to help you create a will electronically. Here’s just a sample of the most popular…

Program Cost What You get
Rocket Lawyer
$39.99 monthly membership
A free will (if you complete it within the seven-day trial)
Legal Zoom

$69 and up
Last will forms, completeness reviews, free revisions for 30 days
Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020

$89.99
Full estate-planning documents, three e-books
[Editor’s note: We received no compensation for discussing these programs.]

I chose Quicken WillMaker and Trust because it gives you everything you need for a full estate plan: Will, Health Care Directive, Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, Final Arrangements, Information for Caregivers and Survivors, and Online Living Trust.

Quicken takes you through completing each document. Every form asks you questions to help determine what you want to happen after you die. Most questions have additional detail that further explains the question and the possible answers, and give guidance on how to answer based on your wishes.

Once you’re done filling out a form, Quicken gives you instructions that detail how to complete it, like if you need witnesses or a notary.

My will took less than an hour to complete. Then two witnesses and I signed it to make the will official.

The final step is to make sure the necessary people have a copy of your will. You’ll need to keep one for yourself and one for your executor. States don’t require you to register your will, but doing so acts as a backup if your original copy gets lost.

As I mentioned earlier, my estate isn’t complicated. And here in Maryland, you just need two witnesses to make your will official. Some states, like Louisiana, also require a notary be present at the signing of your will.

Before you write your will, you should know your state’s laws. NOLO and Rocket Lawyer are good resources.

If you’re in any way uncertain regarding the legality of your do-it-yourself will, have an attorney look it over at an hourly rate. That could still save you hundreds over an attorney putting the entire will together for you.

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and Laura Bente
August 22, 2019