Do I really need to hire a lawyer to prepare my Will?
No, but you should strongly consider doing so.
To many people, a Last Will & Testament seems like an unnecessary and expensive complication, especially if a lawyer is needed, and some believe they can simply write out their wishes or express their wishes orally instead of executing a will. Washington residents are not required to hire an attorney to assist with estate planning.
Although there is nothing illegal about preparing your own estate planning documents, it may be unwise to do so. First, unless you are well versed in all of the issues which should be addressed in an estate plan, using an on-line provider or just going it alone may cause you to miss a planning opportunity. For example, a complete estate plan goes beyond a mere will and should include planning for the appointment of an agent in the event of your incapacity. Additionally, special planning arrangements should be considered for those who have taxable estates, children, disabled heirs and beneficiaries, long-term or assisted living concerns, vacation or other legacy property, and blended families.
Second, properly executing the estate planning documents is an absolute necessity for the documents to be legally binding. Generally, the State of Washington will not enforce a “will” unless it is in writing, signed by the Testator (person making the Will) in the presence of two competent witnesses. The State of Washington will not enforce a holographic will (i.e. a Will made out in the Testator’s own handwriting) unless it was properly prepared and executed in a state which does recognize the validity of holographic wills.
Third, engaging an experienced attorney to assist with preparing a proper and complete estate plan which implements your wishes and objectives is actually far less expensive than the potential financial and emotional costs of improper, incomplete or defective estate planning attempted without professional guidance.
Hiring an experienced attorney to assist with your estate planning addresses each of these issues. An experienced attorney will be sure to advise you about all of your estate planning needs, ensuring nothing is missed. An experienced attorney will properly prepare the necessary documents and ensure they are properly executed to eliminate any concern regarding enforceability. And finally, an experienced attorney will guide you through the planning process to ensure your specific wishes are followed in the event of your disability or death.
If you are a Washington resident in need of a new or revised estate plan, the services of an attorney can go a long way towards making sure anything and everything you want is expressed in a legally binding way. Don’t hesitate to contact an attorney in order to learn more about what your options are.
Matt Cruz is an estate planning attorney and partner at Beresford Booth, PLLC in Edmonds, where he chairs the Estate Planning & Probate Group. He has practiced law for 23 years in a variety of areas, including business, real estate, and litigation.