A Will: A Lawyer or Do-It-Youself Online?

Question: I know that my husband and I need to have a will, especially now that we are the parents of a 20-month old. We have a good referral to a local lawyer from my parents; however, the cost is a bit of concern. How much should we expect to pay for having a general will and living wills written? I did a search on the MarketPlace website and found an article about on-line wills. Are these services reliable and useful in all states? Chandler, Gate City VA.

Answer: Congratulations on pulling together a will. Everyone needs one, especially families with children. A will is also the foundation of all financial planning for families.

There are a number of good "do-it-yourself" products on the market. They are legitimate, and the price range seems to be in the $20 and $120 range. I used one of these products in a pinch. It was a will form created by Nolo Press, a long-time publisher of consumer-oriented self-help legal guides (www.nolo.com). Nolo offers several will writing products. I found the directions comprehensive and easy to follow for the one I used.

I haven't personally spent much time with other well-known do-it-yourself will products, such as legalzoom at www.legalzoom.com and buildawill at www.buildawill.com. But I do believe that all of these products work best for very simple estates.

Still, I remain a fan of hiring a lawyer to do a will. I think its worth the several hundred dollars they'll charge for their services--especially when children are involved. The reason is that a will is a critical foundation for any personal financial plan. You want to make sure you get it right, that you address all contingencies, and that you get any questions you may have answered by a professional.

So, while I have nothing against the do-it yourself wills, in many cases prudence dictates hiring a competent attorney.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.
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I recently checked into writing a will/living will and found that competent attorneys charge as little as $150 (avoid large law firms) for both. I took a community education class and got my will completed for $35 and 3 hours of class with an attorney. The attorney provides the will, which is completed in class or at home. Then you simply take it to a notary public (I went to my branch bank) and have it signed by that person and a witness. If your estate is simple and your children are young, you don't need to spend a lot of money on a will. Also, you can always change it when your circumstances differ.

Please add to my reply:

In addition, you can obtain a free living will specific to the state you reside in from the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization's website under "advanced directives."

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