Editor’s note: This is one of the 20 tough financial questions posed in the “Do This or That?” cover story in the September 2011 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Use the drop-down menu above to consider other financial conundrums and the right answers for you; share your own experiences and insights in the Discuss field at the bottom of this page.
Hire a lawyer in most situations -- it could save your family confusion and squabbles later. A lawyer’s assistance is essential if your circumstances are complex, unusual or involve significant assets. You can search for a lawyer who specializes in estate planning at www.actec.org or www.naepc.org. Costs depend on your situation and your region, but you’ll probably pay at least $300. If money is tight, check with your state’s bar association to find low-cost legal help, says lawyer Danielle Mayoras, coauthor of Trial & Heirs.
Write a do-it-yourself will if you need a short-term fix until you can hire a lawyer or if your situation is very straightforward -- say, you’re leaving everything to one person. But even small mistakes could cause problems down the road. Sites such as LegalZoom.com ($69 for a basic will) and Nolo.com ($59 for a basic will) provide forms and guidance on drafting your own will. If you go this route, make sure you meet your state’s requirements, such as having independent witnesses sign the document. You may be able to ask a lawyer to review the will for a small fee.