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Should You Draft Your Own Will?

If you drew last in a gunfight in the Old West, you might've had time to write out your last will and testament on a scrap of paper before you died.

And yep, pardner, you probably should -- write your own will, that is. Time's not like the undertaker; it waits for nobody.

But that was so two centuries ago. Today, you can write a will on a computer faster than you can load a six shooter. And if you've gone to law school, you likely consider yourself more than qualified to draft a simple will. Except, maybe you shouldn't draft your own.

Why You Might Want Help

Sure, it's easy to satisfy the elements of a valid will. Any first year law student can (hopefully) do it. But there are still reasons why you, a legal professional, should seek help when drafting your own will.

Estate planning is complicated. Unless you literally practice estate law, you may not be as knowledgeable about will-drafting as you might think. Also, with some extra professional knowledge, you might decide that a will isn't the best estate planning tool for your situation after all.

An estate planning attorney can also provide you with more than legal assistance. They can give you valuable advice about, for example, determining the best guardian for your children. It's not unusual for a client to develop a life-long relationship with their estate planning attorney. This can be a real benefit when navigating complicated and intimate financial decisions.

If You Insist ...

While nearly half the states authorize handwritten wills, it really is an outdated method of making a plan for your estate. If you are literally dying and you don't have another option, then make sure you don't forget to include these particulars in your holographic will:

  • Write the entire document in your own hand
  • Label the document, "Last Will and Testament"
  • State your full name, address, age and that you make it of sound mind
  • Name an executor, and a successor, to carry out your will
  • Name your heirs and name guardians for any minor children
  • List your assets and divide them by specifically or by percentage
  • Sign and date the document

If you have joined the 21st Century, however, you really should use a software program that complies with your state's rules on wills. Here's the killer, though: wills must go through probate court, which is a whole other story.

Why Trusts Are Better Anyway

Trust any lawyer on this one, a trust is better than a will. By creating a trust, you can help your heirs out and preserve your assets because trusts are designed to avoid probate court.

Like software programs for wills, there are programs for trusts. They are usually created by lawyers, interactive and user-friendly, and available at a fraction of the cost of an attorney or paralegal.

However, if you have the time and money, spend it on legal help. You can draft your own, but chances are better than a coin toss that you'll get it right with professional guidance.

That's especially true when it comes to making the estate plan actually work. Like handling a gun, you better know what you're doing.

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