A will, formally referred to as a last will and testament, is a legal document that is created and executed by someone — the testator — which directs how the testator's assets are to be distributed upon his or her death. An individual may choose to retain the services of a wills and trusts attorney to create a will, or he or she may choose to create his or her own. Do-it-yourself wills, as with all do-it-yourself legal documents, have pros and cons for anyone who chooses to use them. Among the pros of do-it-yourself wills are limited cost, simplicity, and the ability to change the will frequently. Among the cons of do-it-yourself wills are the absence of legal advice and the inherent limitation of do-it-yourself wills where complex estates are involved.
Although the requirements for a valid will will vary by jurisdiction, most do not require the services of an attorney to create or execute a valid will. Within the United States, most state statutes regarding wills simply require that the testator be of sound mind and that the will be properly witnessed. As a result, do-it-yourself wills have become a popular option. Do-it-yourself wills may be located online or at local stationary stores for a minimal fee in most cases.
The most obvious advantage to using a do-it-yourself will is that the cost is minimal compared to retaining the services of an attorney to create the will. Of course, when deciding to forgo the cost of an attorney, the individual also loses the advice and guidance of an attorney. Laws regarding estate distribution, intestate succession, and estate taxes can be complex and will vary from one jurisdiction to the next. For a simple estate with minimal assets, the guidance of an attorney may not be necessary, making the cost unnecessary as well; however, for a medium to large estate, the advice of an attorney may be worth the cost.
In addition, do-it-yourself wills are easy to follow when the estate is small and there are no complicated legal issues. Many do-it-yourself documents offer step-by-step instructions that can make completing the will fast and easy. If, however, the estate is more complex, then many do-it-yourself documents are unequipped to guide the maker through the complexities. In addition, a do-it-yourself will may not take into account the estate tax consequences of the provisions found within the will.
One of the pros, however, of using a do-it-yourself will is that the testator can make changes to the will as often as he or she wishes. If the testator's assets change, or there is a substantial life change such as a divorce or birth of a child, a new will can be created quickly and easily. When an attorney is retained to create a will, on the other hand, it will take longer and cost more to make even a simple change to a will.