Should I write my own will?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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That depends on several factors. If you have a large estate or a complicated one, you should at least get legal advice on estate planning [link] before you decide what you can do yourself. If your estate is covered by Federal Estate Tax, you should definitely consult an attorney. Since these tax laws are ever changing, and you don’t know what year your estate will be probated, see a lawyer for sure if your estate is over $5.45 million for decedent dying in 2016.

Even for an estate much smaller than that, it might be to your advantage to use other estate planning tools in addition to a Will, such as Trusts [link] or other techniques like joint tenancy or pay-on-death accounts. Your estate could lose a large amount in probate costs if you use a Will when some other approach would have worked better. An estate planning attorney can help you decide on the best approach.

You will also need legal advice if you have tricky or difficult situations like a child who needs life-long care, a spendthrift heir who needs a trust to protect his or her assets, or an heir you want to cut out, but who will probably challenge the Will.

If you have a small estate with straightforward assets, like a house, car, pension plan, and savings account, you can draft your own Will if you have the right resources. You need to make sure that your Will uses all the language that your state law requires. You also need to make sure that you execute the Will properly. This means that you sign in front of the number of witnesses and in the manner your state requires. There are legal forms, software programs and web applications that can help you do this, but make sure that whatever resource you choose provides you with a will that is valid and in accordance with the laws in your state.

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