So, suppose you agree with my post yesterday that death without a will is worse than death with a will, but you don’t know how to get started.
Estate planning is not my specialty, so nothing I write here should be considered legal advice, but I have a few suggestions.
Personally, I worked with an attorney who does specialize in estate planning because I felt it would be the best way to ensure it was done correctly. Also, we have an attorney whom we trust and work well with, so it was easy.
The best way to find an attorney is through word of mouth, and lawyers have a pretty good network so even if your lawyer friend doesn’t specialize in estate planning, chances are good he or she knows someone who does. Alternatively, your state bar should be able to refer you to an attorney as well. An attorney’s services will likely be the most expensive way of creating your estate plan, but most attorneys will negotiate fees with you. I’ve found that here in Los Angeles, a comprehensive estate plan – including wills, durable powers of attorney (also known as living wills), and a revocable living trust – can cost about $2000. That’s a lot of money, but again, you should be able to negotiate the fee. And my guess is that in many parts of the country, the going rate for these services is quite a bit less.
Another way to create a will is to use a service like LegalZoom or even pick up a fill-in-the-blank will form or software. FindLaw has a list of the minimum requirements to create a legal will in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. The more complicated your situation, the more difficult it will be to do everything right according to your state’s law, and the more you will want to consider going through an attorney.
No matter what, though, don’t put off creating your will, especially if you have children and you want to decide who will take care of them if something happens to you. Even if you would choose your parents and a court is most likely to choose your parents also, a will naming them as guardians will facilitate the process. You can never predict what might happen otherwise – for example, the two sets of grandparents could each sue for custody, so that a court will have to decide which set gets primary custody, and then your children will have to go to court to testify about their relationship with each set of grandparents. That could be traumatizing for your children, who will already be traumatized enough by grief over losing you.
It’s in everyone’s best interest if you do everything you can while you’re alive to make things easy if you’re no longer around.