Writing your own will – once it’s written, how do you make sure the court follows through with your wishes?

The weekend trip I just enjoyed has brought me back to thinking about my will – the idea that my husband and I  would die suddenly, say, on a road trip,  and my kids would be left to haggle with the bank and the government over our “legacy” is sickening, it keeps me up at night.

I turn to my copy of “Nolo’s Simple Will Book,” which I bought at Barnes and Noble about 10 years ago to write our first wills. It has examples of various types of wills, and a CD so you can just download the will you want and fill in the blanks.  I get updates online, and check other websites for re-assurance. I also have my mom’s and father-in-law’s wills, drawn up by their lawyers, and it’s all the same stuff.

Maybe you think I’m crazy to try it without a lawyer, but as I’ve said before, my previous experiences with lawyers made me feel like I needed a lawyer to deal with my lawyer. I’m not recommending writing your will alone – if you know a lawyer you feel comfortable with and you don’t mind paying for stuff you can do yourself, that is the way for you to go. I’ll admit, I was not confident in our first wills, I just committed myself to staying alive until my kids were 18. 

The will for a person with no minor children is simple –  eliminates pages and pages of instructions, decisions, decisions, decisions. You just have to identify yourself, heirs and executor – which could be one of your heirs. The language might be a little lawyery at times, but it’s all understandable.  With the page for witnesses’ signatures, it’s only three pages. And I used big print!

Right now, my husband and I are pondering over the next step – getting it signed. By law, you only need to have a couple of witnesses to make this document legal – but that’s trickier than it sounds. For one thing, these people have to be alive and available when you die, because they might have to testify to the signing. What if the witnesses die or can’t be found by the court? What if the court just doesn’t like your witnesses?  That drags out probate – the process by which the court decides whether your will is legitimate and approves your executor/heir, allowing this person to deal with your business and distribute your property.

I would prefer having it signed in front of a notary public – Nolo says this will speed up the probate. Probate costs your heirs money, and can lead to bad consequences for your estate.

The court appointed an idiot to execute my mother in law’s estate when she died in a car accident without a will. My husband and sister-in-law had to get a lawyer to deal  with that guy – he didn’t care about the heirs, he got a percentage of what the estate was originally assessed at, no matter what the heirs got in the end.  He wanted to deal with it as quickly as he could. For one thing, he wanted to fold up her successful business (along with my sister in law’s job?) and  “short sell” all of her real estate, some of which she owned outright, including a piece of land that had been in the family for a long time.   My husband and sister in law had to deal with it, it was almost physical, the phone calls, the trips out of town, to argue with this man over stuff he admittedly didn’t know anything about.  You don’t want a person like that selling your kids  down the river, believe me.

So, right now, to insure that our wishes will be respected by the court, I’m trying to find out all about notaries public. There are several in the local phone book, but I think I’ll get a recommendation from somebody who knows, like my realtor, or my banker. 

I also have the Nolo Press Probate book, that’s an interesting read, I’ll get back to that later.  




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