Do-It-Yourself Living Trusts & Last Wills

By Chris Blank

A living trust transfers control of your property to a trust while you are alive. You may serve as trustee; a successor takes over after you die. A will takes effect after you die; an executor administers the distribution of your estate. Many people consider do-it-yourself forms or online software programs to draft their own living trusts and last wills. It may be possible to construct a valid document that distributes your estate according to your wishes. However, experts generally agree that beyond the most uncomplicated circumstances, saving money with a do-it-yourself-will or trust may produce unintended, detrimental consequences.

Do-It-Yourself Forms and Programs

Many do-it-yourself forms and computer programs use a fill-in-the-blank format. It's up to the user to choose the proper form for her particular circumstances. Some forms and programs are specialized for certain states, but otherwise the user is left to his own devices. Properly utilizing these forms depends on knowing which questions apply to a particular circumstance. Knowledge of current estate law is also important. The program or document should reflect important changes in the law, for instance, the elimination of federal estate taxes for 2010.

Attorney-Assisted Forms and Programs

Some online services offer-state specific do-it-yourself forms and programs for wills and living trusts bundled with advice from attorneys licensed to practice law in the state for which the form applies. These services also offer an option to contact an attorney by email with specific questions that arise during the preparation of the form for a small additional fee.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan


The major advantage to do-it-yourself forms is the price. As of December 2010, costs range from $19.95 to $225, with an option to contact an attorney priced as low as $30 above the fee for the basic package, according to For single individuals with modest estates and a clear idea of where they want their money to go, do-it-yourself wills can provide a viable option. For a young family faced with few bills, no health problems and $1,000 to spend, purchasing a term life insurance policy makes more financial sense than hiring an attorney to draft a will, according to Janet Novack of Forbes magazine. Online programs also allow users to maintain their privacy. Although attorneys are bound by attorney-client privilege, it can be difficult to discuss particularly sensitive circumstances. Online programs also allow users to consider different options without making a final commitment.

Risks and Limitations

The risk of making a mistake with a do-it-yourself will is very high. Even small errors can invalidate the entire document, which subjects the estate to intestacy laws, according to Deborah Jacobs of Forbes magazine. This is especially true with living trusts, according to Another problem is that standardized wills and online programs are just that -- standardized. In many cases, they fail to address significant circumstances, according to Elder Law Answers. In particular, gay couples, families with special needs children, a couple with one or more partners born outside the United States and anyone who owns property outside the jurisdiction should not consider a do-it-yourself will, warns.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
The Average Cost of Making a Will



Related articles

The Disadvantages of Copyrights

Copyright is a form of protection that attaches to an original work of authorship the moment the work of authorship is fixed in a tangible form: for example, a drawing the moment it is put onto paper or a song the moment it is recorded onto a compact disk. The advantages of copyright protection overwhelmingly outweigh the disadvantages. There are nevertheless several disadvantages to keep in mind.

Preparing a Will

Planning for the future includes deciding how you want to divide your assets after your death. Wills and trusts outline your financial wishes, and may also provide your descendants and the courts with instructions regarding the guardianship of your minor children or other dependents. Although many companies provide will forms for individuals to complete their own wills, having an attorney review your document will ensure that it meets your state’s legal standards.

What is a Will & Trust Kit?

A will and trust kit provides forms and instructions for a person who wants to make a will or create a living trust. Wills and living trusts are common estate planning tools used to plan for the distribution of property after one's death. A will is a written document with directions for estate distribution, while a living trust is an agreement used to manage assets while a person is still living and after their death. If you're considering a will and trust kit, you'll need to evaluate the different types available and their associated benefits and drawbacks.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

Pros & Cons of Preparing a Will Online

The proliferation of online will preparation services has helped more people create wills at substantially lower costs ...

Do-It-Yourself Last Will and Testament

Online and do-it-yourself will kits are fast and easy ways to write your will and are considered reliable methods. ...

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Will?

If you've decided to make a will, but you’re not sure how to go about creating it, you have two options: you can either ...

What Does a Simple Will Cost?

A “simple will” means different things to different people. If you’re not a legal professional, you may think that if ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED