Drafting Your Own Will

I recently saw a question on a social media service.  The person was asking if anyone knew a good estate planning attorney and what the cost of a Will should be.  One of the people responding said that she had used an on-line, do-it-yourself Will service.  She did not provide the cost of her do-it-yourself Will, but my guess would be that the cost was somewhere between $100 and $300.

So, what are my thoughts, you might be asking.  (You probably weren’t asking that question until I posed the scenario, but I thought I’d answer the questions anyway.)

A good, local estate planning attorney, in my humble opinion, is me.  I have drafted tens of thousands of last wills and testaments, advanced health care directives, and financial powers of attorney over the course of my twenty years of concentrating my practice in the field of elder law.  I have reviewed thousands of these documents that other attorneys have drafted, so I have a point of comparison.

In the course of my long, concentrated career, I have never seen a Will, health care directive, or power of attorney, I have never seen one of these basic estate planning documents that another attorney drafted that made me think, Oh, boy, have I been doing it wrong for the past twenty years.

Over the course of my career, I have seen sections in other attorneys’ documents that I have incorporated into my documents because I believed the sections to be helpful to my clients.  But never have I thought on whole that another attorney’s documents were substantially better than mine.

On the other hand, I have seen numerous instances of attorneys who have drafted estate planning documents that range from inadequate to meet the client’s needs to just plain problematic.  Now, I don’t think I’m the only good estate planning attorney in the area.  There are a number of very good attorneys.  So, what should you look for in an attorney who will draft your estate planning documents?

First, you should look for an attorney.  The do-it-yourself Will companies that advertise on television and the radio are not attorneys.  I just heard a radio commercial from what of these companies and the spokesperson literally said “We are not attorneys.”  When you use one of those services, make no mistake about it, you are drafting your own Will.  A “company” is not a lawyer and cannot legally practice law.  A lawyer is an individual who is licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  A company is not a lawyer because a company cannot be licensed to practice law.

Do I think you should draft your own Will?  I think you can.  I also think you can operate on yourself.  I think you can be an electrician around your house.  I think you can be your own car mechanic.  Do I think you should do any of these tasks if you have no knowledge as to what you are doing, no, I don’t.  But you are certainly free to do any of these things on yourself or  your property if you want to.

The problem with drafting your own Will or your own health care directive or your own financial is, you won’t know if the documents have an issue until it’s too late.  Your executor won’t be acting on your Will until after you die.  It’s too late for you to fix it at that time.  Your power of attorney agent won’t be using your power of attorney until after your mental incapacitated.  It’s too late to fix then as you have to have mental capacity to draft a new power of attorney.

I think you should use an estate planning attorney who concentrates his/her practice in the area of estate planning, for instance, a certified elder law attorney or an attorney who through the associations to which he/she belongs demonstrates a concentration in the area of estate planning.

How much should estate planning documents cost?  For an estate planning package (Will, living will, power of attorney), I charge about $600 for a single client and about $850 for a couple.  Some of the attorneys who concentrate their practices in estate planning charge anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000.  I think my documents are just as good.

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