Dear PoP – Has Anyone Made a Will?

Photo by PoPville flickr user mustachioed

“Dear PoP,

So a group of my friends all made New Year’s resolutions to finally make wills – and here is it late April. If crazed DUI bicyclists happen to kill any of us, our families are tangled at best, screwed at worst. Don’t know if it’s a topic for Griffin & Murphy, or just the general Poputariat, but I know there are lots of homeowners here – what have others done about wills? Do you really need a lawyer? Can you just write something up and file it somewhere? What about online programs or places like Legal Zoom?”

Anyone out there have a Will? Anyone do it without a lawyer? Related: How ’bout a ‘living will’ or when to have them pull the plug in the hospital?

20 Comment

  • I bought a CD from Office Depot or the other supply store and you just type in the stuff. I had a few people sign it as witnesses, made copies, and gave the stuff to family members. Mine was simple as it is only me w/ a house and I just gave everything to my nieces .. not sure what level of stuff you have etc. I believe Trusts are a bit more difficult.

  • It is highly recommended that you work with an attorney to establish your will. You will likely receive advice that is well worth the small fee you will pay. A living will (instructs your doctor or others regarding end-of-life decisions you may not be able to vocalize) and medical power of attorney (in which you name a person to make health decisions for you if you cannot) are very useful and important documents as well. But any will is better than no will.

  • I agree with the above. In addition to providing for your estate, many people should consider how they are going to provide for their animals. Don’t just let your fury loved one be taken in by a local shelter. You can make provisions in your will for your pet, or even create a trust for them! Many lawyers do this, including Ellen S. Walker, Esq., Miller, Miller & Canby, Rocville, MD.

    • for the love of god, don’t create a trust for a pet. ask your friends if they would be willing to take it in if you should die, and mention it in your will. that’s all it takes.

  • ditto what Wills said. i printed a will and a living will for free at work, altered the language where needed and got a couple coworkers to witness both docs. both were said (by the site i printed them from) to be modified to fit d.c. requirements. i have no idea if either will actually hold up in probate, but i suspect they will. at this point, the only thing really affected is my condo since all my work-related accounts already have beneficiaries.

  • It really depends on how much you have, your family situation, and what you want to happen when you’re gone. There probably are a few very basic things required to write a valid will in DC — signed, witnessed, etc.. — and it would be easy enough to look that up online, meet the requirements, and draft a perfectly valid will that holds up in court.

    But that assumes you need a will. From my POV, it’s far more important to keep as much out of probate as possible by making sure you have up-to-date beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts/insurance policies, property is held jointly with your spouse, and bank accounts are either jointly held or have payable-on-death provisions. That stuff you can do on your own.

    And you definitely should have power of attorney, durable medical power of attorney, and living will documents prepared, too. These are simple enough documents — probably you could buy the CD at Office Depot — but they’re critical. Everybody should have thought this through, but it is especially important if you have kids.

    • I looked it up. If it’s signed by you and two witnesses in your presence, you’ve got yourself a will.

      From DC Code 18-103:
      A will or testament, other than a will executed in the manner provided by section 18-107, is void unless it is:

      (1) in writing and signed by the testator, or by another person in his presence and by his express direction; and

      (2) attested and subscribed in the presence of the testator, by at least two credible witnesses.

  • Wills on places like legalzoom will not necessarily be held up as valid in a probate court. Especially if you have kids or significant property, you should get a lawyer to do one properly.

    • Why would a legalzoom or other non-lawyer-made will not necessarily be held up as valid? What makes a will valid?

      • that’s my take as well. if the estate is super-complicated, obviously an estate attorney should be consulted. for a regular joe with a relatively simple estate it shouldn’t be all that complicated. especially if you have no spouse/kids. even if you do have a spouse, i don’t know that it would be crazy complicated since most courts operate under the assumption that the spouse will by default get everything not otherwise designated. then again, i didn’t go to law school for a reason.

  • Just leave me the money and I’ll take care of everything.

    I have experience in these matters, having taken care of a very large estate from a Nigerian prince.

  • I have my beneficiaries designated for life insurance and that stuff, and I’m only a renter, but I’m guessing everyone should have a living will. Can you just get it notarized and have that be it? I’d probably include something to the effect of “all my possessions shall be handed over to my parents” and have them deal with giving stuff to my brother/cousins and everyone.

    On another note, if you’re a renter and you die, does your life insurance (or whatever you have) have to pay off the rest of your lease? I would hope that your landlord would be sympathetic enough to not force that.

  • for basic wills, legalzoom is *fine*. In fact, the form for a valid DC will and Living WIll is in the DC Code. I just went on Westlaw (granted, nonlawyers dont have westlaw), printed it out, filled in the blanks, and had the requisite # of witnesses (I used 3, cant recall if 2 will suffice) sign at same time as me. Point being, Legalzoom will give you the instructions. If your estate is >$1M, I agree, get a lawyer to help you plan the estate.

  • If you have kids, see an attorney so you can get properly created trusts and make sure guardianship issues are taken care of if you and your spouse are both killed.

    If you are married w/o kids and have few assets there may be little need for a will as everything will go to your spouse.

    If you are unmarried (or gay married) and own property, please, please, please get a will and P.O.A. and medical directive and etc.

    Make sure everything is signed and notarized, just signing and sticking it in your file cabinet is not enough.

  • I’m not sure if they still do it, but I know Sova (on H St.) used to have a lawyer on hand one or two nights a month for small matters. For something like $40, you got a drink and legal advice. Their website didn’t mention if they still have this kind of event, but it could be an inexpensive option if you prepare a will and just want a lawyer to assure you that it’s solid.

  • Emmaleigh504

    Also tell people where they can find your will/power of attorney/living will. It doesn’t do anyone any good if they can’t find it.

  • Legal Zoom is good if you don’t have children under 18 or large/complex estate. I am in the biz and used it for my own will.

  • I have a will using one of those software packages, but I really need to change it as there have been some changes to stocks and other things I own and I want to change the charity. I had 2 witnesses.

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