Do I Need An Attorney For a Will?
I recommend that a client or prospect see an attorney for creation of a new will or review of an existing will. I am often asked if “getting one from the internet” is just as good. My answer is an emphatic “NO!” There are many reasons why I say no, and here are several:
- Laws may have changed since the time an original will was drafted that affect the ability of your existing will to have your estate distributed in the manner you desire. A good attorney would alert you to changes like these.
- Your situation may have changed and the will was not updated to reflect that change. For example, more than once I’ve had a client tell me that a divorce has occurred since the will was created, and the beneficiary designation was not changed. Perhaps that is the intent; perhaps not. Some states have changed laws regarding the rights of ex-spouses and you need to verify that the estate will be distributed as you intend.
- Some years ago I heard of a case in which parents of young children were killed in an automobile accident. They had a will that was drafted in a state different from that of their current residency, which left the children to relatives in the former state. At the time, the state they resided in required children be left to someone in that state. This resulted in the children being separated and placed in foster care until a court could sort out the disposition of the children. Obviously this added more trauma for the children that could have easily been avoided had a local attorney reviewed and properly updated that will.
- You may not realize that you have a situation for which an attorney has solutions. For example, my client has put off updating a very old will because the client’s son is in the midst of a divorce proceeding. The son has a child. The client wants to assure that none of the estate gets into the hands of the son’s ex-wife. My client is waiting until the divorce proceeding concludes. There are well known solutions to this, and attorneys know how to affect these solutions.
- Errors in a will can be a justification for disputing the will’s validity in court. Not only can this drain the value of the estate and disrupt family harmony, but also cause delays in distribution to the beneficiaries. It is better to consult with an attorney in the first instance than to have to hire an attorney later to try and sort out problems you didn't realize had been created.
- Your estate plans may be better served with a trust in addition to, or instead of, a will. Attorneys recognize these situations and can create appropriate trusts.
Attorneys are trained to learn about and understand clients’ situations, and to create wills that assure the clients’ wills conform to local legal requirements and also reflects their desires.
I strongly believe that a small investment now for consulting with a professional will benefit you greatly in the long run.
Lastly, your attorney should also offer to provide a living will, a health care power of attorney and a durable power of attorney, when appropriate.