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    August 2012
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    Do You Really Need Lawyers to Make a Will

    Ed Olkovich

    Are you tempted to use a kit to create your will? Remember this: you may never get a second chance to make a proper will. Nothing is more expensive than a cheap will that doesn’t work.

    Let me explain the costly dangers that Alice’s relatives learned the hard way.

    Alice was 82 and lived alone. Alice checked online and found she did not need a lawyer to prepare her will.  She bought a will kit but the instructions were too difficult to follow. She had heard a handwritten will was better than nothing.

    Alice found some lined paper and wrote out her last wishes. Alice only had some bank funds so her note left all her property to her two nieces. She listed who was to get which china figurines. Alice assumed her family would sort things out.

    Don’t Make Your Family Fix Your Mistakes

    Unfortunately, when Alice died her relatives inherited the estate problems. Since Alice’s will was a hand written note, a judge needed to rule if it was a valid will.

    It did not have any of the usual markings of a will. There were no witnesses named. No one could verify if and when Alice signed it. There was no executor named in the note.

    Here were a few problems:

    • Alice’s bank could not release any information to the neices.
    • Her landlord would not allow anyone into Alice’s apartment.
    • No one had legal authority to represent her estate or collect benefits.

    The nieces disagreed who should be in charge. They each hired their own lawyer.

    Why Everyone Needs a Will lawyer

    These lawyers told the nieces to go to court. Why should they do that? Because a judge must first accept Alice’s note as a valid holograph will. Then, and only then, could the nieces probate the will.

    The nieces needed to find someone to verify Alice’s handwriting. It had to be someone who had no interest in her estate. Thus, a judge must disqualify the nieces and their family.

    It would take weeks to prepare papers to file for a judge to consider. It took several weeks more to get probate. The nieces ran the estate. These administrative and legal costs could have been avoided with a lawyer prepared will.

    Alice did not understand the costly problems her nieces would have to solve. Making a will is a simple investment. Use an experienced estate lawyer to save time and avoid unnecessary extra costs and legal fees.

    Who Suffers from DIY Wills?

    Yes, the law allows you to prepare your own will.

    Some people will say that you can operate on yourself as well. But why would you?

    To me this is an inaccurate comparison. DIY surgery does not harm other people. But dying with an invalid will leaves a burden on those you leave behind.

    Wills Are Tax Saving Devices

    One of my favorite financial writers with The Globe and Mail is Tim Cestnick. He has a way of simplifying tax topics. He explains how a proper will can give you tax savings. Well, you know, I have to share his story with you.

    Click to read Cestnick’s wills and tax article.

    I am an estate lawyer who writes wills. You can accuse me of a professional conflict of interest. You cannot accuse Tim Cestnick of having the same conflict. He is not a lawyer. He just wants to save your money.

    Dangers of Will Kits 

    The danger with will kits is that they claim to be “legally approved.” Well, that’s hardly accurate. Only lawyers can express a legal opinion on a will after you sign it.

    Will kits and computer programs are not tamper-proof. They can’t prevent you from making a mistake when you fill out forms.

    What you end up with may never be legal. It could also be a do-it-yourself disaster.

    Don’t kid yourself. Making a will involves the intersection of tax, family, will, estate, property and trust laws that most people do not understand.

    Invest in professional advice. It provides protection that you can count on when making an estate plan.

    Get Experienced Legal Advice if You:

    • Need tax advice

    • Have minor children

    • Are in a second marriage

    • Need a marriage contract

    • Have a common-law partner

    • Have special-needs beneficiaries

    • Were recently ill or hospitalized

    • Own foreign assets or property

    • Have substantial investments, a business or second home

    Not All Lawyers Are the Same

    Sure, I have seen bad wills prepared by lawyers. They are human, like doctors and dentists. It pays to do your homework before you hire a will lawyer.

    Get Expert Advice

    You can create an estate plan in a few weeks. You might only need one or two meetings with an experienced estate lawyer.

    Fees for this work will vary. Fee rates depend on where you live, the complexity of your circumstances and your lawyer’s experience.

    Don’t be afraid to ask lawyers what time and money you should budget.

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    About Ed

    Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of seven books. Visit his website, mrwills.com, for more free valuable information.

    © Edward Olkovich 2012

    The MONEY® Network