Is a Last Will & Testament Free?

by April Kohl
Filling out a template will avoids the cost of hiring a lawyer.

Filling out a template will avoids the cost of hiring a lawyer.

Mario Ragma Jr./iStockphoto/Getty Images

A last will and testament is often written up by, or on the advice of, an attorney who is familiar with the estate laws of the state where the testator -- the person whose estate is being willed -- resides. The estate will usually passes into probate on the death of the testator. Both of these processes usually incur costs, although you may be able to avoid the expense by following certain steps.

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Writing a Will

Writing a will does not necessarily require the services of an attorney, usually the most expensive part of creating a will. There are template wills which you can download for free from the Internet, or you can use the main body of a friend or relative's will to determine the required structure of your will.

Probate

Probate is a necessary process for declaring a will valid following death, and should therefore be considered as part of the will's cost. During probate, the court usually takes a percentage in legal fees of the testator's estate. However, much of the cost of probate can be avoided by creating trusts and signing a joint tenancy agreement or co-ownership on property. This may remove part of your estate for the purposes of probate, reducing your cost.

Warning

Writing a will using a template or working from an example will cannot usually cover all the possible complexities involved in administering an estate; nor is there any guarantee that the resultant will is going to be legal under the laws of the state where the testator resides. Similarly, an incorrectly created trust is not going to avoid probate, and trusts can be expensive in their own right.

Prevention

Although it incurs costs, consulting an attorney to discuss the best way to reduce the cost of probate will help you avoid problems with state laws on estates. Similarly, an attorney may be able to tailor the content of a will to remove any problems that may crop up with larger and more complex estates.