A DIY Will You Can Live With

financial planning, diy will

Do you need a will?

It depends. If your “estate” is comprised of IKEA collectibles, probably not. The real reason to get a will is to make sure that, in the event of your untimely death, that your spouse and children are cared for, and your valuable property, assets and personal belongings are distributed according to your wishes—not your state’s default laws.

Fortunately, “a simple do-it-yourself will is often fine,” says Hofstra Law School professor Joanna Grossman, as long as your circumstances aren’t too complex.

If you’re in a second marriage or have a disabled child or an adult in your care, you’ll want to hire a lawyer—or if you think your assets might be subject to federal estate tax or to state inheritance taxes.

Some states require a notary, others don’t

A common mistake, Grossman says, is not getting your will witnessed or notarized, according to the specific laws in your state. Your will must be executed properly or it won’t be considered valid.

How do you pick a good DIY will?

Most cost about $50. Quicken WillMaker Plus 2011 and LegacyWriter were the standouts in this recent review by Tara Siegel Bernard of the New York Times. She also recommends that if you have any legal concerns, you can have your DIY will reviewed by an estate lawyer for a modest fee—less than you would have paid for a will from scratch.

Once the will is finalized, keep a single copy in a safe place, like in a fireproof box in your home or a safe deposit box. If you update it, destroy all older versions.