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Personal finance writer finds DIY estate planning not for everyone

It doesn't matter if you think your personal estate is small, in the event of your sudden death you will want assurance that whatever assets you have are distributed according to your wishes. Some in New Jersey might consider doing this without the help of an attorney, but as one personal finance writer recently acknowledged, it's not necessarily a good idea.

The columnist, Brent Hunsberger, admitted in one column in The Oregonian earlier this month, that despite the fact that he's been advising others about personal finance, including touting the value of estate planning, he lacks a will himself. So he decided to try some different do-it-yourself approaches for drafting a will without an attorney.

What he discovered is perhaps summed up in this quote. "Planning your finances after death is one case where, for many readers, your heirs will be better off if you get personal, professional help."

What he tried and what he concluded follows.

Online wills:

Hunsberger says he spent 15 minutes working with a form offered through an online service and found it unnerving. He was unsure how the information he gave in response to questions would be used.

Afterward, he had an attorney review his $81 will and discovered gaping holes regarding guardians for his children. He notes that the will allowed him to set up a trust for his children, but that the service didn't explore options for disbursements that might have been desired, such as requiring the children to complete college.

Hunsberger also notes his will only covered him. Adding one for his wife and an advance directive for end-of-life decisions, the cost of the online will rose to about $450. He observed that an attorney might cost more, but he'd have greater peace of mind.

Wills from a book

Hunsberger crafted a will for his wife using a template from one of the various handbooks available. He says a lawyer's review of that one-page document highlighted some of the same concerns as the one from his online experience specific to guardianship for their children and more.

The author concludes with this wise observation. "Executing a will is an act of love." He says in the end, you'll never know if a DIY will was adequate. Only your heirs will.

Source: The Oregonian, "Fill-in-the-blank wills can be a little skimpy," Brent Hunsberger, March 10, 2012

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