Resources for Writing a Will?

Last Friday, I drove from Corvallis to Portland to help my cousin, Duane. Duane has been living with throat cancer for several years now, but in recent months things have grown worse. It feels like he’s preparing for the end. And that means he’s packing up his apartment (where he’s lived for 21 years!) to move someplace smaller.

We spent all of Friday afternoon sorting through his office. This was a challenge because (like most Roths) Duane is messy (and a self-proclaimed hoarder). Duane and I packed boxes and boxes of collectible card games, ancient coins, books on Greek and Roman history, and outdated computer games.

While we packed, we talked. Duane is my cousin, yes, but he’s also my best friend. Because we’re family and friends, I feel like we share a deep connection. We can call out each other’s bullshit without hurting feelings. We can sing each other’s praises without becoming obsequious. Most of all, we can talk about nerdy stuff like Magic: The Gathering, The Great British Baking Show, the ignorance of history in supposedly “historical” television dramas, and so on.

At one point, I found a piece of paper buried on a bookshelf. “Can I have this?” I asked. “I want to publish it on Get Rich Slowly.”

“What is it?” Duane asked.

“It’s your net worth from 1993,” I said.

Duane laughed. “Go ahead,” he said, and I gleefully tucked the page in my pocket. I love it.

[notebok paper with Duane's handwritten net worth]

I love that his net worth lists assets like “Aquariums $100” and “Albums $100” (referring to his progrock record albums) and “Stamps $16,000”. Duane used to collect semi-official Canadian airmail stamps. Then he moved on to collecting ancient Green and Roman coins.

I also think it’s hilarious that Duane listed his $9 Texaco charge card as a liability. Nowadays, I wouldn’t bother with a debt so small. Thirty years ago, though, Duane did.

Although our work was non-strenuous for me, it took its toll on Duane. He recently finished another round of chemotherapy and is in a lot of pain. It’s a struggle for him to walk up stairs, to lift even the lightest objects. At one point, he pulled off his shirt to show me how emaciated he’s become. (He can’t eat solid food, so it’s difficult for him to consume enough calories. Drinking calories gives him nausea.)

“I’m so skinny!” he said.

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Old,” he said. “I look like I’m 87, not 57.”

We began packing another box of ancient coins. “Hey,” Duane said. “If you get bored, I could use your help making a will.”

“You still haven’t done that?” I asked. Duane has been talking about making a will for months now. Maybe years.

“No,” he laughed. “I’ve been feeling better.” I knew exactly what he meant.

When Duane feels lousy, he’s motivated to plan for his impending demise. He thinks about writing a will. He thinks about finding a replacement for himself at the box factory. The problem is that once he begins to feel better again, he decides not to do anything. As a result, the family business still has no plan for accounting and bookkeeping once he’s gone. And, obviously, he still hasn’t written a will.

I shook my head. “Dude, you know that you should to write a will when you’re of sound mind and body. That’s exactly when you’re supposed to do it. You’re not supposed to wait until the very end.”

He laughed. “I know,” he said. “But I don’t like thinking about it.” Nobody does. Nobody does.

We didn’t get to the will last Friday, though. We got distracted talking about computer games. I left without helping him draft one. (I also left without a sketchpad and a houseplant he wanted to give me.)

“I really appreciate your help,” Duane said as I was prepping to leave. “It would have taken me weeks to do what you accomplished in a few hours. Thank you.”

“No problem,” I said. “And please, let me know if there’s anything else at all I can do. I know it might seem like you’re hassling me, but you’re not. I want to do this more than anything.” Earlier in the day, we’d talked about how much we appreciate each other and about our regrets. One of my deepest regrets is that I blew off my friend Sparky in the weeks leading up to his suicide in 2009. I didn’t know his death was imminent. This time, Duane’s demise seems clear, and I want to make the most of whatever time we have left.

Today, Duane sent me an e-mail. His follow-up appointment yesterday didn’t go well. His treatments aren’t working, and the doctor has nothing else to try. All that’s left is to mitigate the growth of the tumor. So, it’s very likely that I’ll be making lots more unplanned trips to Portland in the near future: to help Duane, to help the box factory, etc.

First, though, I want to help Duane draft a will. He doesn’t know where to start. Honestly, neither do I.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

I’ve written about estate planning several times in the past, although not in many years. And behind me here in my office, I have shelves of personal finance books, including books on estate planning. Books like The Executor’s Guide to Settling a Loved One’s Estate or Trust and The AARP Crash Course in Estate Planning. (Most of my books are showing their age, however)

Meanwhile, I again need to put my 2022 plan for GRS on hold. I spent Monday and Tuesday this week diving into the long-awaited “de-design”. (I want to revert this site to a much more minimalist (almost “primitive”) look and feel. More on that later when I’m ready to reveal the new look.) I made some good progress, too. I’d hoped that by the end of this week, I’d have a design finished and ready to convert to a blog theme. Now I need to put this plan aside for more important things.

Fortunately, I find I’m not frustrated by any of this. I feel like I have the right attitude here, that I’m placing priorities where they ought to be placed. I’ll finish the GRS de-design at some point. For now, though, I’ll focus on family (and on the family business).

Before I wrap things up today, I have one request.

If you have any experience and/or recommendations regarding writing your own will, please drop me a line whether by email or in the comments below. I won’t get to this today — I need to tie up loose ends here at home so that I’m able to turn my attention outward — but I’ll probably start my research tomorrow. I’d love suggestions for books, software, and/or online resources for estate planning.

In return, I’ll do my best to collect these into a useful blog post here in the near future. Thanks!

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There are 37 comments to "Resources for Writing a Will?".

  1. Dan Weeden says 16 February 2022 at 14:16

    We hired a family friend that is an attorney to setup a will, power of attorney, medical directive (living will) and HIPPA release authorization. I think it was fairly standard will to our state (NC) and cost ~$200 per person (my wife and I). I think it was money well spent and gives us peace of mind for our children. The estate attorney will know the questions to ask and the legalese to make your wishes happen. In this case it may be better to hire a professional versus DIY.

  2. Christina Tang-Bernas says 16 February 2022 at 14:27

    I really like GYST (Get Your Shit Together, https://getyourshittogether.org/) as a way to organize a lot of end-of-life stuff. It also has a list of resources (https://getyourshittogether.org/recommends/) that might help. Chanel, the founder, lost her husband unexpectedly, so she started helping others prepare for the inevitable.
    I personally had a trust (including wills, power of attorney, healthcare directives, etc) done through a lawyer (one of the work benefits my husband has is MetLife for less expensive access to legal help), and I think that’s the easiest because all the legal jargon is done for you. But there are a lot of online and DIY options out there as well.

  3. Jared Ocker says 16 February 2022 at 14:44

    LegalZoom worked well for putting together our will.

  4. Shaun says 16 February 2022 at 15:04

    I feel this is one area no one should try a DIY approach. Spend the couple hundred bucks and have a legal professional draw up a will. That way, you know it will be valid and, should it end up it court, there’s a much better chance the deceased wishes will be followed.

  5. Angie says 16 February 2022 at 15:18

    I have nothing to add about wills but I wanted to encourage Duane to discuss a feeding tube with his doctors. It may not be worth the risks at this point, but it would help him retain his strength.

  6. Kim says 16 February 2022 at 16:01

    There are actually estate planning things you can buy for not much money online through MetLife; recommend those.

  7. A Vaughan says 16 February 2022 at 16:21

    I used a Nolo will book in the past. It was good and even had a CD with templates on it. Another child and state later I need to rewrite mine and my husband’s. I think I will use legal zoom this time, there were a lot of recommendation for it on my woman’s engineering FB page.

  8. Shanna says 16 February 2022 at 16:44

    I’m not an expert but also live in Oregon and have done a lil poking around. Oregon allows POD (payable on death) designations for bank accounts, TOD (transfer on death) deeds for real estate and TOD for stock/bond accounts with beneficiaries. Use these methods to keep assets out of probate. Look into simplified probate is it’s a “small estate” as well.

    • Mapleton Reader says 18 February 2022 at 08:39

      I have done the same in Utah. Setting up beneficiaries for a transfer on death is often a quite simple procedure for financial accounts and supercedes a will (so it pays to check out the beneficiary designations anyway). Oregon and Utah allow it for a home as well (possibly other real property). For me, the rest of my estate is considered small (<$100K) and Utah does not require a will for such a small amount, just a notarized form for selling the cars and other bigger ticket items. So a simple letter of intent for distribution is all that is needed for the information of my family members. However in this case, if much of wealth is in coins and stamps or you have special requests, a lawyer is likely the best solution (unless these items are going to be sold anyway and can be done now and put into bank accounts).
      Again, recheck any current beneficiaries for financial accounts to make sure the beneficiaries are correct. I’ve heard of long ago ex-spouse beneficiaries inheriting financial accounts which were intended to go to the current spouse.
      Sorry to hear about your cousin.

  9. JCA says 16 February 2022 at 17:14

    Duane should also make sure that any will is properly executed and witnessed, per the requirements of Oregon law. If not done correctly, the will is invalid.

  10. email says 17 February 2022 at 00:12

    Here’s a 100-year-old Portland company that sells great legal forms that cover all sorts of things at very affordable prices. Makes it super easy to do you own will. I used their probate package to do probate myself after a family member died. Wills are very simple if your assets aren’t complex. I’d never pay someone to do it for me.
    https://stevensness.com/collections/probate-wills

    • J.D. says 17 February 2022 at 07:16

      True story: I used to go to the Stevens Ness storefront in order to buy a certain notebook that they carried. $3.19! I never looked at their legal forms though… Thank you for pointing this out.

      • Marissa says 02 March 2022 at 14:10

        I am also located in Oregon and have used Stevens and Ness forms. Some of the Fed Ex Kinkos locations in Oregon also carry physical copies if you prefer or you can download them from their website. I’m a super DIYer so Ive used them for my divorce, to purchase a home for sale by owner, promissory notes, and for a rental agreements with tenants. Sometimes they also sell the forms in packages that contain ALL the forms you need, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had advanced directive, POA and will in one package.

        • J.D. says 02 March 2022 at 19:15

          Yep yep. Because Duane was dragging his feet on this still, I purchased the Stevens-Ness form from their website yesterday and drove it up to him at the hospital. “This is so much easier than I thought it would be,” he told me haha. He’s promised to get it done, which is good, because things are becoming more urgent.

          • Marissa says 02 March 2022 at 19:35

            Ah! Very cool. My heart breaks for you JD, I lost my dad to dementia in 2019 and my grandma in 2020, both were/ are huge pillars in my life. I absolutely 100% relate to your posts about your mom. Sending you lots of love and good energy ? We’re all thinking of you and hoping for the very best possible outcomes. 

          • Marissa says 02 March 2022 at 19:37

            That was supposed to be a heart emoji not a question mark! Sending you lots of love!

  11. Felipe says 17 February 2022 at 04:24

    Its not so hard to do a DIY. I purchased Quicken Willmaker and & Trust CD. If you buy an older version its very affordable (you can get the 2020 version for under $20). After finishing the step by step instructions you print, notarize with witnesses and it’s a perfectly valid will.

  12. Pete says 17 February 2022 at 05:24

    Check out Freewill.com. I learned about it while working for a large national charity. We partnered with them. Really nice product for a fairly simple estate. Can also do power of attorney and healthcare directives. Making a donation to charity is optional. And completely free.

  13. FoxTesla says 17 February 2022 at 09:51

    It’s worth the couple hundred to speak to an estate attorney (and if they advise so, have will/POA/health directive drafted) rather than DIY and the executor/trix finding out he/she will be spending thousands of dollars on probate because an attorney familiar with the state-specific laws was not involved setting up the documents.

  14. Janette says 17 February 2022 at 14:39

    Here is the bottom line. He needs to write out what he wants ( he can dictate it) then he needs to sign it in front of two witnesses who are not impacted by the will ( go to a bank or credit union if nothing else). Every state is different. You have to do what your state says and have it validated in your state. I took an old will, updated it, and took it to the bank for a witness. It does NOT have to be complicated. Come up with an executor . Personally, let that person know what you want but leave those small things out of the document- charities and lives change. Unless there are minor children you can really use legal zoom fill in the blanks….. My bill’s was hand written – one paragraph- two signatures and valid. Don’t make it more complicated then needed. Do an easy one first and then worry about complicated. BUT please, please have a will!!!! IMHO

    • Dave says 18 February 2022 at 03:23

      We finally did our will acouple of years ago. We hired an estate attorney and it was $500. Not overly complicated as we only have 1 adult child. He completed the will, health care proxy’s, power of attorney, etc.. It felt like a lot of money for what was done but at the same time I also felt like it was well spent. We met with the attorney for about 30 minutes and discussed our assets and wishes. He sent us the documents to review within a week, made one small change, went into his office and signed the forms. Not a fun topic but with the right person it was easy to do!

  15. Srikanth Perinkulam says 17 February 2022 at 23:06

    I used the Tomorrow app to set one up for my family a few years ago. Also last year, I setup a ‘End Plan Document‘ to help them pick the loose ends. Honestly, it’s helped me document things better.

  16. Mapleton Reader says 18 February 2022 at 09:17

    I’d like to comment a bit on the back end of a will. I have no personal knowledge of actually probating a will or being an executor of one. However, wills do need to be probated, which entails time, possibly significant money, and puts knowledge of the will assets in the public domain. The executor has to follow a set legal course to get the will proved and then liquidate and disburse the assets after the final expenses which may take months (a year?) to complete. While the will can give peace of mind to the testator, there is still work involved on the probate side (just less than if there was no will at all).
    My point: you may wish to consider the probate part of a will as well in any estate plan you set up.
    In my case, I chose to disburse my assets by using a transfer on death beneficiary method, which occurs fully outside of probate, leaving only the sale of minor belongings (less than a certain value) which my state doesn’t want to be involved in. Still a letter of intent was generated on my part for any family keepsakes previously assigned to an heir). My sister and her husband are fans of using a trust, which is more costly and time consuming to set up, which also avoids probate but still uses a trustee to distribute assets.

  17. Katie says 18 February 2022 at 09:56

    I suggest three things to do before/in addition to the will.
    First if he doesn’t have a power of attorney for health and finances, set that up now. It places a lot of trust in that person but having it before you need it is critical. You have to set it up while someone is still cogent. Washington had a free default form and Oregon probably does too. The state site for elders and disabled people will probably have a link to it or a link to legal help that will have a link. It’s good to have in hand, it’s better to get that person set up with all the banks early since that takes an annoying amount of paperwork.
    Second he should talk to his doctor about making a POLST, which talks about what kind of life sustaining care he wants.
    Thirds set up beneficiaries in his online banks, stock and insurance accounts. Things set that way don’t have to be listed in the will and can skip probate (at least in Washington).
    If you find the elders and disability help website they probably have some lawyer you can get a free short consultation with. It may take a few weeks for them to get back to you, but if your needs are straightforward that call and some form templates may be all you need.
    Take care and make sure you rest. Caregiver burnout is real.

  18. Mary says 18 February 2022 at 09:58

    Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about Duane. As a long-time reader of your site, I have been touched by Duane’s story and have been rooting for him. I was inspired by your decision to travel to Europe with him a few years back. Please take all the time you need away from the site: I’ll be here when you return.

  19. Laura says 18 February 2022 at 12:48

    My parents went to their local Credit Union and they have a program where they connect you to estate attorneys relatively inexpensively. I think they said it was about $300 and they did the will, power of attorney and medical directive in a 1 or 2 hour session.

  20. E says 18 February 2022 at 15:40

    A good friend is an attorney and gave us the “family and friends discount” package: $250 for Living Wills, Medical Power of Attorney, and the rest. I cannot stress enough how important POA is, no matter your age. We were in our early thirties when my husband had a life-threatening event. We didn’t have any of the above, let alone a POA. I couldn’t access jack for his medical records, make decisions regarding his care, anything, and would have been well and truly screwed if not for some clever records personnel thinking of loopholes to get me the paperwork I needed for his follow-up appointments and care. (That paperwork saved him from having a procedure done TWICE, as the doctor’s notes didn’t include the first time.) I’d encourage you and your cousin to get his medical POA and a living will in place as soon as possible. Duane can have his provider scan it in so that it’s available within the medical system no matter where he needs care. While we’ve done this, I also confess to keeping a photo copy hidden in the car so that, worst case scenario, I have it on hand.

  21. Pat says 18 February 2022 at 19:37

    Prayers for Duane feeling much better during this stage of his journey. And for you, going through it with him –I know this is SO hard. . . .

  22. Petra says 20 February 2022 at 00:07

    Make the will about love and thankfulness. That would be my way of looking at it. Maybe that helps.
    I DID sit through two sessions with a professional who created a valid/legal will for us. It was a bit boring, but I know that in that legalese is my love and care for those I love.

    • Laura says 22 February 2022 at 06:42

      Your last sentence reminds me of a conversation with my Grandma right after my Grandpa passed about updating her Will. She said she just wanted it to say when she passed that her assents would be divided equally among her three children. She had to meet with an attorney for an hour and ended up with a 30 page document and didn’t know why it had to take that long or be that many pages. But when she eventually passed a few years later my dad said settling her estate was extremely easy because of how she had it set up and he was very grateful she had done that.

  23. Rh says 21 February 2022 at 19:39

    Definitely good to get a will done even if just for The Magic The Gathering cards and what happens to them. Antiques Roadshow recently valued a few of them at over $100k. Who knows, maybe sell them now so you and your cousin can do a memorable staycation, etc..

  24. Brian says 23 February 2022 at 06:28

    We used LegalZoom for our will and healthcare directives. If Duane’s estate isn’t complicated, DIY is pretty easy through LegalZoom or one of the other methods already mentioned in the comments. Given Duane’s potential interests in the box factory though, that may complicate things more and may make hiring a professional worth it.

  25. Hans says 23 February 2022 at 07:45

    We used willing.com — it was fairly straightforward and was able to cover our needs. One caveat to mention, we needed to get tons of witnessed signatures at the end, which could be expensive depending on the minimum fees your local notary charges.

    • Tina in NJ says 23 February 2022 at 09:57

      A good friend is a notary. At least in New Jersey, notaries are not allowed to charge fo their services. I usually go to my bank or my accountant (try not to during tax season), someone I already have a relationship with. Hugs to both you and Duane, gently, of course.

  26. mary w says 23 February 2022 at 11:33

    I suggest selling or giving away his speciality collections now. He knows the value of his stamp or coin collections better than his executor will. A friend or relative can express their appreciation for gift now whether it’s an ancient coin or game card.
    Check with his medical provider about Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will forms. They may have one that they prefer and are familiar with.
    Use Transfer on Death and Beneficiary designations on everything he can.

  27. Jo says 28 February 2022 at 13:26

    We had a very simple will that would have done the very basics, but finally went to a lawyer and had the will, Power of Attorney, pre-need guardian, living will, special trust and health surrogacy drawn up. A pre-need guardian prevents someone from pulling a scam on you, a la the movie “I Care A Lot.” One other thing to check on is if the executor must be a current occupant of the same state as the deceased. If you all live in the same state, no problem. And, as noted, this has to be done while the person making the will is of sound mind, so urgency may be needed. A sound mind can change quite rapidly to incompetent, as I can attest.

  28. BRB says 04 March 2022 at 16:24

    We used totallegal.com for ours. It was pretty easy and is $10/month, but you can cancel after you make your documents and have the digital copies saved to your computer.

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