A last will and testament template provides simple, easy-to-follow guidelines to create a will. As the testator, or person writing the will, you will likely only have to fill in the blanks so the final product accurately represents your wishes for the distribution of your property upon your death.
Whether a downloaded will form would work for you depends on your circumstances. Here are some key considerations when deciding whether you should just write a last will and testament yourself using a template or whether you should consider pursuing a more personalized will-writing experience.
The Complexity of Your Estate
If you have a simple estate that includes perhaps a home, bank accounts, vehicles, valuable personal property, and some investments, your situation might be a good candidate for a simple will created with a template. Many of your assets may already be set up to pass directly to beneficiaries, notably a spouse—life insurance proceeds or bank accounts that are either jointly held or have a listed beneficiary, for example. These are types of property that you wouldn't put in a last will.
On the other hand, if you have a more complex estate, especially if you have concerns about the federal estate and gift tax, a will template probably isn't the way to go. An estate planning attorney can help ensure that your tax owed is as minimal as possible, leaving more of your hard-earned assets to your beneficiaries rather than to the government.
Your estate could also be complicated because of the types of beneficiaries you have. If you have a dependent who will need care beyond adulthood, for instance, you might consider special provisions, such as a living trust, that go beyond what a will template can offer. If you own all or part of a small business, you should also consider getting legal advice on how to pass on your interest once you're gone.
Likelihood of a Will Contest
If you have strong reason to believe that one or more members of your family may contest your wishes as described in your will, you should consider seeking professional advice. Wills created with a template are valid so long as they are executed properly. If you are unsure of the laws of your state regarding proper will execution, professional advice on at least that aspect of will creation is advisable.
This caveat is especially important if you are concerned that someone could question whether you were of sound mind or under duress while signing the will. Even with proper execution, however, if the will doesn't properly guard against potential contests within its substantive terms, your estate could still be in for a fight. Individual, professional estate planning advice could guard against that.
Regardless of how you get your will written, the most important thing is to have one. Without a will, you would die "intestate" and state law could determine where your property goes—and it may not be the distribution you would have intended. While in most situations a will template is an easy and inexpensive way to express your wishes regarding your estate, some testators may benefit from legal advice and a more individualized estate plan.