“Do I Need a Lawyer to Draft a Will?”

August 16, 2010

OK, you have our attention.

There is now growing debate as to whether or not people can draft their own wills without a lawyer.  What good are we anyway?  You can’t afford us.  You don’t trust us.  We’re inconvenient and inefficient.  You don’t like hourly rates.  You don’t want to risk your dollars on potential outcomes we raise that you think may never happen (see p. 12 for research cited by Richard S. Granat, Esq. in this ABA Commission on Ethics report).

Online non-lawyer sites are cropping up and enabling you to obtain a will inexpensively in short order.  An article on Nolo.com asks if lawyers are optional.  It states that “when lawyers draft wills, they usually start with a standard form that contains the same types of clauses contained in most do-it-yourself wills … exactly what you can do for yourself when you make your own will with software.”

Even some of “our own” minimize our role in making wills.  Some lawyers encourage the purchase of a revocable trust kit to help you avoid probate while accusing other lawyers who write wills as simply creating their own retirement, since many families will hire the same lawyer for probate.

So are you convinced that you don’t need a lawyer?  If so, before you click away, let’s present some counterpoints.

First, you can legally write your own will.  Whenever you hire a lawyer, you are essentially delegating your right to represent yourself.  However, the issue truly is about whether or not you should.

Next, nolo itself carefully lists many times in its books and its site the scenarios when a lawyer is suggested.  I think they have a wonderful service for many people, but in this particular case, they appear to be saying, “You don’t need a lawyer to draft a will unless you need one.”

Third, an “ad hominem” attack is one made in favor of one’s own position through attacking another person’s or group’s character.  These are generally weak arguments, because they essentially change the subject.  To argue that a revocable trust should be used since lawyers who draft wills are secretly planning to be compensated for the future probate of your will does not cover the merits of using a revocable trust (which I will discuss in a future post).

Fourth, let’s look at one clause of a do-it-yourself kit.  Its third clause states “If my beloved wife does not survive me, I give the remainder of my estate to my beloved children, named A & B.”  There may be problems with this seemingly simple clause.  For instance, what if A & B are not the only children?  Were any children born after the will was drafted?  How should A and B split the property? In other words, the final result from a do-it-yourself kit or online service may not produce the results you intended.

Finally, I give the last word to David Shulman, an estate planning attorney in Fort Lauderdale, FL, who recently wrote an excellent post in his blog entitled “Are Do-It-Yourself Wills Ever OK?

 “Do I Need a Lawyer to Draft a Will?”


Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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