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Do I Need An Attorney To Prepare A Simple Will?

Need a lawyer to prepare will

I occasionally get asked if it is really necessary to hire an attorney to prepare simple estate planning documents.  Usually, the answer is NO, however, I find that once I start asking a few questions, most people really don't need a simple Will and they would be much better served with professional guidance.

Let me take you through some of the questions that I ask to determine whether it is worthwhile to engage legal counsel:

  1. Do you have children from a previous marriage?  If so, I strongly recommend that you hire an attorney.
  2. Do you minor children?  Most likely you would benefit from professional advice.
  3. Are you wealthy?  If you have less than $300,000, I would say you probably would not need an attorney. Between $300,000 - $500,000 is maybe.  Between $500,000 to $2,000,000 is probably.If you have over $2,000,000, I strongly recommend that you hire an estate planning attorney with a masters in taxation.
  4. Do you wish to leave money to a person with special needs child, drug/alcohol problems, going through divorce, bad with money or might otherwise require special instructions?  If so, I strongly recommend that you hire an attorney.
  5. Are you leaving money UNEQUALLY to your children or are you cutting out one of your next of kin?  If so, I strongly recommend that you  hire an attorney.
  6. Do you have concerns that your next of kin might fight over your inheritance?   If so, I strongly recommend that you hire an attorney.
  7. Do you plan to leave more than a token amount to charity?  If so, I strongly recommend that you hire an attorney with a masters in taxation.
  8. Do you plan to leave different types of assets to different people?  (For example, a business to one child, one piece of real estate to another child, and an IRA to a third child)  If so, I strongly recommend that you hire an attorney.
  9. Do you intend to leave money to a pet?  Yes - serious question for some and if you do, I recommend using an attorney.
  10. Do you own any unusual items that have value (such as artwork, intellectual property, family heirlooms)?  If so, you probably wish to hire an attorney.
  11. Do you own assets in more than one jurisdiction?  If so, I recommend using an attorney.
  12. Are you elderly and worried that you may need to spend significant time (over 2 years) in a nursing home?  Then you should probably meet with a Medicaid attorney.
  13. Where do you live?  In some states, probate is an absolute nightmare, so even with a small amount, you might wish to hire an attorney to help you avoid probate.

So what do I consider a simple situation?  Generally it is a person who has less than $300,000 of traditional assets, has responsible adult children who all get along, and the testator wishes to leave everything outright to those children in a probate friendly state.  Most others could basically save time or money with professional advice.