Writing A Will Your Way

Do-it-yourself kits can help yousecure your assets without a lawyer

We all know we’ll eventually need a will, but many of us don’t want to confront the painful yet inevitable issue of death. A valid will can guarantee that everything from your classic record collection to your stocks and bonds goes to the person you select. But, if you die "intestate" — that is, without a will — you won’t have any control over who winds up with your most precious possessions. Instead, your property will be distributed to your spouse, children or next of kin, according to the laws of your state. And if you don’t have any family, your property will go to the state.

When Racquel Chatmon began taking care of the finances of her ailing grandmother, she realized she needed to create a will for herself. Even though Chatmon is single and has no children, she owns a house and a condominium that provide rental income. She also serves as a guardian for her 13-year old brother, Eric. The 27-year-old editorial assistant and part-time student at Cleveland State University wanted to be able to dictate "who gets what."

What she didn’t want was an expensive legal bill, which can cost from $250-$3,000, depending on the complexity of – your estate. So, she attended a local seminar on legal provisions for the elderly, talked with social workers for her grandmother and gathered literature on many types of wills and trusts. Finally, decided to write her own will. She came across an easy-to-use computer software package, Last Will and Testament (EZ Legal, $14.95). "I just fill in the blanks," she says.

Like Chatmon, you don’t have to have a lawyer to create a will, since the language for most simple wills is fairly standard. A variety of legal self-help books and computer software, including WillMaker 6.0 (Nolo Press, $49.95) and The Quick & Legal Will Book by Denis Clifford (Nolo Press, $15.95), is available to help people who don’t have law degrees. There’s even advice you can pull off the Internet (tap into the Nolo Press Self-Help Law Center at www.nolo.com.) The best candidates for do-it-yourself wills are single people or married couples without much property, says Barbara Kate Repa, an attorney and author of WillMaker 6.0.

  • If you fall into this category, then consider these basic questions:
  • What property do you have (both real estate and personal property)?
  • Who would you like to receive your property when you die?
  • Who will take care of your minor children? Check with the potential guardian and ask if he or she is willing to take on this responsibility, financially and otherwise. This person would be the chosen guardian if both parents die.
  • Who is going to he your executor or personal representative? This is the person who rounds up the property in your estate and distributes it according to your wishes. It should be someone you can trust who has his or her own financial house in order. You’ll also need someone to serve as the back-up executor.

Remember that each state has

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