Planning Your Legacy

Get Started on Your Will

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When it's time to create your will, the first step is deciding whether to call an attorney or create one yourself using an online template or other DIY program. Here are some factors to keep in mind when making this decision.

The complexity of your situation

If your personal and financial situation is very simple, you may want to consider a DIY will. For instance, perhaps you've never been married, don't have children, have modest assets in your name alone and plan to leave all of your assets to one close relative.

However, most people's circumstances are more complex. An attorney can advise you on your unique situation and create a customized will and other associated documents tailored for your needs. An attorney will help you consider:

  • Coordination of every piece of your estate plan, including planning for potential estate tax savings. An attorney will also factor in "non-probate assets" such as retirement plans, life insurance with a named beneficiary and assets held as community property with a spouse.
     
  • Planning for minor children by clearly directing who will care for them and their financial assets if both parents pass away before the children turn 18. An attorney will likely help you set up a "trust" to help manage your children's assets until they're adults. Planning for minor children is especially important to address possible complexities if you have children from a prior marriage or have adopted children or step-children.
     
  • Special needs planning for a child or other beneficiary with a disability. The attorney can help you set up a "special needs trust" to avoid compromising your beneficiary's Medicaid, Social Security and other governmental assistance.
     
  • Laws specific to your state, as well as multi-state and international issues.
     
  • Unique circumstances or relationships, especially those that may to lead to someone contesting your will after your death.

Confidence

If you use a qualified attorney to properly create, witness and guide you on filing and storing your will, you can be confident that it will be executed according to your wishes after your death. If your will is incomplete or doesn't comply with the laws of your state, it could be deemed invalid. Fixing problems with your will after your death usually means a much longer and more expensive probate period and the possibility of your assets being distributed differently than you had intended.

A will that has been properly filed, witnessed and stored will also help protect against fraud. For instance, someone could find the sole copy of your will and delete pages, alter contents or destroy the will completely. This possibility for fraud is much less likely if you've followed the appropriate protective measures with the help of an attorney.

Cost

The obvious advantage of creating a DIY will instead of hiring an attorney is the potentially large cost savings. If you choose to hire an attorney, you can save time and money by doing the following to prepare for your first meeting:

  • Clarify your attorney's legal fees up-front.
     
  • Organize your information regarding assets, liabilities, and title and beneficiary arrangements. Make copies of important documents such as previous wills or trusts, powers of attorney, life insurance policies, employment benefits, prenuptial agreements and divorce decrees.
     
  • Think about whom you want to provide for financially after your death, as well as who you want as a guardian for your minor children.
     
  • Tell your attorney about any special needs or circumstances such as a child with a disability, children from a prior marriage, adopted children or step-children.

The quality of the document

If you ultimately decide to create your own will, you have many legal document services to choose from. Try asking friends and family which services they have used, and look up reviews online to make sure you choose a reputable service offering quality documents. After you create your DIY will, you should also make sure it's witnessed, filed, and stored according to the laws of your state.

ARAG legal insurance offers access to estate planning attorneys and state-specific will templates created by attorneys. Ready to get started on your will?

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