Last week, reader “P.H.” said that he knew it was time to make his
Will. He was leaning toward a do-it-yourself Will or an online Will, which
he said was mostly DIY anyway. He asked if there were good reasons to pay
for a lawyer’s help.
Last week, I gave Reason #1 for hiring a
lawyer to write your Will: it is less expensive to do-it-right than to
do-it-yourself. The example was recent litigation over a Will written by a
man named Ken, who tried to leave his house to his wife but used words
that gave his son grounds to claim rights. The courts decided that his
wife had to share ownership with his son. Ken’s inexperience with legal
precedence and special meaning for certain words caused litigation, which
was far more expensive than hiring an attorney to do-it-right from the
There are other reasons to rely on experience professional
legal advice. Online sites do not use lawyers to give you counsel or draft
your Will. One site that advertises heavily buries this disclaimer: the
site “is not a law firm and is not a substitute for an attorney or law
firm. Communications between you and [this site]… are not protected by the
attorney-client privilege or work product doctrine.” You get no legal
advice, no legal advice specific to Texas law, and you give up legal
privacy at online form sites.
Texas law imposes a variety of
requirements on an Executor. An Executor must by law do two very expensive
things: 1) post bond through an insurance agency to guarantee good
behavior, and 2) suffer court oversight of all decisions and actions the
Executor takes on behalf of the estate. These default legal requirements
are called a “dependent bonded administration”.
Most people do
not like the idea that probate should be slow, expensive and a burden on
their survivors. Will someone on the do-it-yourself to save a few bucks
bandwagon have the legal knowledge and experience to avoid those
expensive, slow probate procedures? Unlikely. But an experienced legal
professional can include in a Will provisions to waive the bond
requirement, and to allow the Executor to act free of court supervision.
The administration will be far less expensive when those provisions are
included in the Will.
Thus, Reason #2 for hiring a lawyer to
write your Will: it is less expensive to do-it-right than to
do-it-yourself or do it online. Wait, that was also reason #1. Hmmmm, do
you see a theme emerging?
What else can make it more expensive to
do-it-yourself? How about the idea that when you die and your Will is
presented to the court, evidence must be submitted to prove that the
pieces of paper are really your Will and not a fraud? The validity of a
do-it-yourself Will like the one which Ken made must be proven with
evidence. The law allows a handwriting expert to be hired, or allows two
people who knew Ken’s signature and handwriting to testify in court.
Anything that takes more time in court can be more expensive.
alternative is to let an experienced legal professional “self-prove” your
Will. The law contains special provisions that, when properly included in
your Will, eliminate the need for anyone to testify about its validity.
This enhances the Will’s credibility and can streamline the probate
So, Reasons 1, 2 and 3 for hiring a lawyer to write your
Will: it will save you money. There is one other reason: a Will may not be
the best or only legal way to pass title to your assets. An experience
legal professional can advise you about survivorship arrangements,
designation of beneficiaries, and can discuss with you the pros and cons
of avoiding probate by using a trust agreement. Thus, Reason #4 to hire a
lawyer is to investigate other options that can avoid probate (and save
money). There’s that theme again!