Why do I need a lawyer to draft my will?

Okay, if you’ve read “Why do I need a will?”, then you’ll agree that everyone owning assets or having children needs a will! But why do you need a lawyer to draft your will? Why not just do it yourself?

I completely understand this question – I’m a frugal do-it-yourselfer of the highest order, but over the years I have discovered that it pays to have a pro do certain things. For example, I can certainly change the RAM card on my computer, but I will have an electrician hang and wire my chandelier. Wills are chandeliers, not RAM cards, for the following reasons:

1) Execution requirements for wills are stringent. If not executed properly, your will is null and void. If you’re not sure what an execution requirement is….well, this is what lawyers are for!

2) Do-it-yourself wills have been around for a long time – they are commonly referred to as “Grand and Toy” wills. There is lots of case law dealing with these wills – they are generically drafted, and therefore very open to attack by a beneficiary or wannabe beneficiary.

3) Certain assets may not fall into your estate, and therefore would not be covered by your will. Do you know what these assets are? Your qualified lawyer would.

4) Do you understand the income and probate tax consequences of the choices you have made in your will and in your estate plan in general? If not, your beneficiaries may not receive the distribution under the will that you intend. Will your family have to sell the cottage in order to pay your final income tax bill?

5) Life insurance has many tax advantages that a qualified lawyer would be able to discuss with you.

6) Estate litigation is growing by leaps and bounds. The best defence against a will attack is a rock-solid solicitor’s file. If you haven’t used a lawyer, there is significantly less evidence supporting the fact that your will represents your true intentions, and that you were competent to make your will at the relevant time.

As Rob Carrick wrote in the Globe and Mail (August 29, 2011) in his article entitled “20 Things I Don’t Understand About Personal Finance”:

“#19. [I don't understand w]hy all parents don’t have a will and some term life insurance to protect their children in case the worst happens. No will kits, mind you; that’s like do-it-yourself surgery.”

And the frugal David Chilton, in “The Wealthy Barber Returns” opines as follows:

“Do not draft your own will! An experienced lawyer will not only help you avoid mistakes, but will also raise issues you probably wouldn’t consider on your own. While I normally push you to watch your costs, in this case, don’t be “penny-wise, pound-foolish”.”

Needless to say, I completely agree.

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