More than half of American adults have no will, notes the American Bar Association. This is due in part to the general perception that will preparation is complicated and expensive. While lawyer time adds up fast, people with simple estates can usually prepare their own wills at very little cost -- and since a will lets you name your heirs and the guardian of your minor children, the costs of not having a will can be substantially greater.
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Free: Holographic Wills
In some states, all you need to prepare a will is a pen and paper. Most states authorize handwritten wills -- also called holographic wills -- in emergency situations where the testator fears for her life. Some states, including California, validate holographic wills under all circumstances. In these states, a testator simply writes out her will by hand, including her identification, her devises and her executor. When she signs and dates it, the will is executed and valid.
Almost Free: Statutory Wills
Perhaps recognizing the cost factor of wills, some states made will drafting easy by inserting the bones of a last testament into the probate statutes. Statutory wills contain all required language as well as express instructions for execution. To access a statutory will, obtain a copy from the probate court, download it on your home computer or copy the statute at the law library. A testator fills in the blanks with her personal information, then signs the will before the required witnesses (see Resources).
Not Too Expensive: Form Wills
If your state does not offer a statutory will, buy a form will. Form wills look like statutory wills except they are not found in the state statutes. Try the stationary store, legal form store, probate court or law library. Like statutory wills, form wills provide the verbal framework of a last testament with blanks for you to fill. The cost varies from free to around $50 in 2010, but a higher price tag does not guarantee a better product. A good bet is a state-specific form will approved by the local Bar Association.
Expensive to Very Expensive: Attorney-prepared Wills
Lawyers specializing in will preparation are called estate attorneys. Since lawyers charge what the market will bear, prices for testament work are all over the map. Some firms offer simple wills for a set fee, while others charge in time increments -- ranging from around $60 to over $300 an hour. Complex estates benefit from legal advice, and estate attorneys help minimize estate tax as well. Your local Bar Association provides references to qualified practitioners and sometimes to low-cost legal clinics.
References & Resources
- American Bar Association: Writing Your Will
- American Association of Retired Persons: Ten Things You Should Know About Writing a Will
- CNN Money: Needed: a Firm Foundation, Write Your Will Now.
- Cost Helper: How Much Does a Will Cost?
- California Bar Association: Probate Code 6240, California Statutory Will
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