Three things that make you feel old: Falling asleep halfway through Criminal Minds on a Friday night, having to shop for life insurance quotes and creating a will. The first two are easy. The last one is hard. At least I thought it was. The legal profession has a knack for sometimes obscuring the simplest tasks. Nolo’s books and software, while not a replacement for a lawyer or professional (they take pains to say that themselves), do make many situations much clearer and easier to understand.
Given that I’m climbing the ladder towards 40 and have a small child dependent on me providing fresh Mac N Cheese and sparkly clothes, I figured it was time to make some arrangements. You know, just in case. Fate never liked a betting man. So I did what anyone of my generation would do. I googled it. Turns out even the simplest will would cost anywhere from two thousand (an actual lawyer) to at least a couple hundred (an online will mill). Turns out there was a third alternative: Nolo and the public library.
Think of Nolo’s Simple Will Book and Software as sort of like TurboTax for wills.
“Over 40% of Americans over age 45 do not have a will. Presidents Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and US Grant died without wills.”
Chapter One: Making Your Own Will
An introduction to the book, as well as the what you can and cannot do with a will. It also discusses the situations that go beyond the scope of the book, where you may need a lawyer. Finally it walks through a typical standard will and explains each section.
Chapter Two: An Overview of Wills
This chapter goes through the the process of making a will and includes discussion on: How to Make a Valid Will, Types of Wills, Explanatory Letters and What Happens to Your Property After You Die (sequence of events).
Chapter Three: Special Property Rules for Married People
Did you know your spouse may already own a part of that restored Mustang or that mint Ken Griffey Jr. Donruss Rated Rookie (blech, she can have it)? This chapter talks about the impact of marriage on property law. Found it rather interesting reading to be honest. It looks at same sex laws, common misconceptions about common law marriages, community property, and common law states.
Chapter Four: Taking Inventory of Your Property
If creating a will for you means deciding who gets what. This chapter is about the what. The main point is to be clear about what property you own. The CD included with the book includes a property worksheet to help you organize what you have (this isn’t a legal document, just an aid to get you moving). Along with a description of the property, the worksheet includes columns for: ownership, percentage owned, and estimate of net value. There is also a section on the type of property you can and can’t leave.
Chapter Five: Your Beneficiaries
This is the who part of the will equation. For many people, myself included, the beneficiaries are pretty clear, but the book includes sections and examples where the beneficiaries aren’t so clear. This book is about simple wills, so most of this chapter talks about what you can’t accomplish with the book (just as important as what you can do). After talking about who you can leave it to, this chapter also talks about how including gifts, organizations, minors, pets, alternate beneficiaries and a host of other situations.
“Heinrich Heine left his property to his wife with the condition that she remarry so there would be one man to mourn his death.”
Chapter Six: Choosing Your Executor
It’s not enough to have a will, you need an executor, a person to oversee the probate process and make sure the property in the will gets distributed as you desire. This chapter goes through the expected duties of the executor, factors to consider in choosing one and specific state requirements.
Chapter Seven: Children
Having minor children was the primary impetus for me to get my act together and create a will (same with additional life insurance). This chapter is divided into two sections: providing personal care (who will raise the minor) and providing financial care (providing financial support). The bulk of this chapter talks about Uniform Transfer to Minors Act and creating a trust or family pot for children.
Chapter Eight: Debts & Taxes
You’re not quite done with bills and taxes just because your dead. Typically this isn’t a big deal and if you’re doing your own will, I’m guessing you can breeze through this chapter. If you read it, you’ll find a discussion on debt responsibility after you die and how to choose specific assets to pay debts along with everyone’s favorite estate taxes.
Chapter Nine: Choosing the Right Form
Till this point the book has been background information on the process and gathering the necessary information. Chapter nine moves into the actual preparation by discussing the available will forms. Nolo offers seven basic will forms along with an extensive selection of clauses to pick and choose from to make a customized will.
I chose form 1: will for a married person leaving all or bulk of property to a spouse with the children as equal alternate beneficiaries. With this type of will, each spouse needs to prepare his own will.
Chapter Ten: Using the Fill-in-the-Blank Wills
This is essentially the user manual for the will templates provided on the CD-ROM.
If you have the most recent version of Microsoft Word 2007, you’ll need to convert the Word files provided on the CD (I’m using Nolo’s 7th Edition from 2007) to a Rich Text Format to open it. I was also able to open the forms with OpenOffice with little trouble.
The template forms themselves do a good job of leading you through the choices, but if you run into trouble, the book walks through the specifics of each clause and how to handle any special situations. Any tricky situations were usually covered in more detail in a prior chapter. There is also a sample will included that can also serve as a guide.
Chapter Eleven: Making a Customized Will
Given that I used the fill-in-the-blank version in chapter ten, I skipped this chapter, but it appears to walk you through the various clauses you can cherry pick to make up your own, non-boiler plate will.
Chapter Twelve: Making it Legal
This chapter walks through signing, witnessing and use of a notary public to make things all nice and legal.
Chapter Thirteen: Changing or Revoking Your Will
Skipped this one. Guess I’ll check the book out again if I need to.
Chapter Fourteen: Estate Planning
While making a will is the first step, there is a lot more to estate planning. At least a whole chapter’s worth on probate, estate taxes, property, and “final arrangements.”
Chapter Fifteen: Working with a Lawyer
The last chapter talks about working with a lawyer or seeking advice online.
The rest of the book is a glossary and tear out worksheets and wills if you don’t want to use the CD ROM versions.
For or a younger person with a straight forward financial and beneficiary situation, this is a no brainer. I found this book really helpful and worth the time both for the money saved and the knowledge and insight gained into the will and probate process. I wouldn’t recommend it for people who were straying much beyond the fill-in-the-blank templates as it can get pretty complicated very quickly.