"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 Amanda 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...
[Editor's note: We received no compensation for discussing these programs.]
I chose Quicken WillMaker Plus 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.
You also get three e-books – the software kit plus book (basically a user guide), The Legal Answer Book for Families, and NOLO's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law.
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.
Here's how it looks in Quicken:
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.
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.
Have a great week,
Laura Bente & Amanda Cuocci
February 4, 2018