Q: You mentioned in a previous column that anyone owning property should have a will. Is a lawyer really necessary to make out a will? Why can't I buy a form someplace and draft my own will and have it notarized?
A: You don't need a lawyer to draft your will. After all, you won't be around to know of the problems which might have been created.
The whole question of the availability - and competency - of professional services has become a major consumer issue in recent years. In fact, the Supreme Court only recently ruled that lawyers have the right to advertise their legal services.
If the only consideration for not going to a lawyer is price, than I suggest you shop around. You will find that lawyers no longer charge set minimums, and you will be able to find a lawyer who will draft your will at a reasonable cost.
I do recommend that you see a lawyer for a will. If you miss a technicality, you may find that your will is invalidated, and the court will apply what is known as the rule of intestacy - whereby there is no will. Your wishes may be overlooked in that event.
If you have children, are you adequately protecting their interest? If the children are young, and you do not establish a trust for their benefit, you may find that they walk into the courthouse demanding their interests, even though they are too young to fully understand the value of a dollar. The court will appoint a guardian, which is something you should do yourself.
Have you contemplated all of the possibilities that can happen? For example, a husband may want to leave all of his property to his wife, and vice versa. But what happens if both of you should die from the same automobile accident? Have you left a gap, which might invalidate your will - and more importantly your intentions?
Thus, it is important to obtain competent legal counsel when you draft your will.
With respect to handwritten wills, the laws in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are quite different. You or your lawyer should carefully review the law before you decide to keep such a will. Forms are available, but they may not be adequate for you personal needs.