Brenda Lyle – Florida Today
Q: Can I Write My Own Will?
A: Anyone over 18, who is “of sound mind” (no cognitive impairments or mental illnesses), can write their own will. Really, the question is not “can I” but rather “should I” write my own will?
What is a Will?
A “will” is a legal document, directing the disposition of your property and assets after your death. You must name an executor to be in charge of carrying out the wishes set forth in your will. Your will must be signed in front of two witnesses, who will also sign to attest to your signature. In Florida, your will does not have to be notarized. Florida also allows for an electronic will–one that is entirely created, signed and stored (by a qualified custodian) electronically. Electronic signing requires the assistance of a notary and witness team.
Do I really need a will?
In Florida, if you die without a will, your assets are divided by “intestate succession.” This means your property goes to your closest living relative, starting with your spouse. If you are unmarried, your children are next in line and so on. However, there is a chance this could differ from what you actually want. Because no exceptions are made where no valid will exists — you may want to consider a will.
Why should I NOT write my own will?
If you want to disinherit your spouse or children, you should consult an attorney. Step families and blended families also pose challenges to will-writing. Alternatively, a trust may be a better legal solution for your family.
Are there other choices?
Some assets (life insurance, bank and brokerage accounts, IRA and 401k) ask you to name a beneficiary, to direct ownership upon your death. Certain property deeds and titles can transfer ownership– but you should consult an attorney about those options. Directing the distribution of family heirlooms is possible only with a written directive.
Geoff Hoatson, attorney and owner of Family First Firm, offers some advice.
“Preparing your own Will is a bit like using WebMD instead of going to your doctor. Sure, you can do it, but chances are it’s going to be painful. Most people have no idea what makes a Will valid, who is eligible to be executor, how to properly list their distribution desires, or what factors are considered when attempting to invalidate a Will. Save your loved ones the headache and attorney’s fees that come with poorly drafted documents – hire a lawyer.”
To find an elder law attorney, contact One Senior Place in Viera or Altamonte Springs.
One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to AskOSP@OneSeniorPlace.com, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.
Brenda Lyle is a Certified Care Manager and Certified Dementia Practitioner with One Senior Place, Greater Orlando.