Wills run the gamut from scribbled text to fill-in forms to voluminous, lawyer-prepared documents, and the costs of preparation vary just as wildly. The type of will you need dictates the costs involved, so consider well your assets, your beneficiaries and the level of complexity of your bequests before diving in.
A will is a legal document that describes who you want to inherit your property and assets when you die. Wills must be signed by the maker and, in most cases, that signature must be witnessed by several adults. Since wills generally pass through court-supervised probate before assets are distributed, many people name an executor in the will, the person who will shepherd the estate through the probate process.
Some states, like California, permit you to make a will by writing it out in your own handwriting. These wills, termed holographic wills, must be entirely in your handwriting, including date and signature, and they require no witness signatures. They cost you nothing whatsoever to prepare. However, even if you live in a state that permits holographic wills, it's best to use one only if you have a relatively small estate and simple bequests.
Read More: States Where Holographic Wills Are Legal
Form wills are fill-in-the-blank documents. As long as the form meets your state's legal requirements, a properly executed form will is valid and may be completed without an attorney's assistance. However, if you aren't sure of state requirements or you have a complex beneficiary plan, it is probably a good idea to obtain legal assistance. Some state legislatures prepare and publish "statutory wills," form wills that fulfill all of that state's legal requirements. Alternatively, obtaining a form will from your state bar association or court is safer than buying one at the office supply store. Form wills are inexpensive, unless you hire an attorney to help you.
If you hire an attorney to prepare a written will document for you, the price you pay depends on the fee agreement. Some lawyers will prepare simple wills for a flat fee, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars; others charge an hourly fee and your bill is calculated by multiplying the hourly fee by the number of hours the lawyer spends preparing your will. Despite the added expense, if your estate is substantial, your beneficiaries numerous or your bequests complex, hiring an attorney makes sense.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.