Do I need an attorney to prepare my will?
Legally, no. Practically speaking, yes. A will does not need to be prepared by an attorney for it to be legally effective. A will that you draft yourself, or even a preprinted will form purchased in an office supply store, will be legally effective if you are of legal age in your state (i.e., 18), are mentally competent, and execute the will properly. This means the will must be acknowledged and signed by you in front of witnesses. The required number and age of the witnesses varies from state to state, though two witnesses who are at least age 18 is typical. In addition, the witnesses should not be anyone who will benefit under your will. Some states also require that a will must be notarized to be legally effective.
However, most people feel uncomfortable with a do-it-yourself will. They generally have some questions that should be addressed by an experienced estate planning attorney. In addition, some people have more than just basic concerns or are in complex situations where drafting the will properly is vital. Legal assistance can help ensure that your intentions are clearly communicated and no questions exist at the time of your death. You should also seriously consider professional assistance if your personal situation includes concerns such as:
- You have minor children, children from a prior marriage, or a beneficiary with special needs
- You own significant assets and are concerned about minimizing estate taxes at your death
- You want to achieve certain goals, such as controlling the management and distribution of your property after your death
- You have heirs you wish to disinherit, or there is a chance your will may be contested after your death