Budgeting Financial Planning Estate Planning Should You Write Your Own Will? Can You Write Your Own Will? By Julie Garber Julie Garber Julie Garber is an estate planning and taxes expert with over 25 years of experience as a lawyer and trust officer. She is a vice president at BMO Harris Wealth management and a CFP. Julie has been quoted in The New York Times, the New York Post, Consumer Reports, Insurance News Net Magazine, and many other publications. learn about our editorial policies Updated on December 15, 2021 Reviewed by Thomas J. Catalano Reviewed by Thomas J. Catalano Thomas J Catalano is a CFP and Registered Investment Adviser with the state of South Carolina, where he launched his own financial advisory firm in 2018. Thomas' experience gives him expertise in a variety of areas including investments, retirement, insurance, and financial planning. learn about our financial review board Fact checked by Emily Ernsberger Fact checked by Emily Ernsberger Twitter Emily Ernsberger is a fact-checker and award-winning former newspaper reporter with experience covering local government and court cases. She also served as an editor for a weekly print publication. Her stint as a legal assistant at a law firm equipped her to track down legal, policy and financial information. learn about our editorial policies Share Tweet Pin Email Writing your own last will and testament might seem like a good idea and not much of a challenge. You're just saying where you want your property to go when you die. But that's only one important thing your will should address. If you have minor children, they can't own property. You'll have to appoint someone to take care of their inheritances for them, not to mention naming someone to care for them when you can no longer do so. The laws governing how to make a valid will can vary from state to state. This—and any number of special circumstances—can make writing your own will a real challenge, even with the help of computer software and online programs. Estate Planning Isn't One Size Fits All Hero Images / Getty Images Will forms generated by estate-planning computer software are typically designed to cover only the most basic needs. These forms are often kept as simple as possible to comply with the laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, although you can find some that are state-specific. Your loved ones could be left scrambling after your death, trying to deal with state-related issues the software didn't address. And just as everyone's fingerprints are different, so are everyone's estate planning needs. The bottom line: A generic last will and testament probably won't do you or your loved ones much good. It's All in the Words Extreme Media / Getty Images Using the correct legal language in your will is important because so much rides on getting it right. For example, the court will appoint a guardian or guardians for your children if you don't accurately express your wishes for who you want to raise them when you're gone. Naming a guardian might have been your foremost reason for wanting to write a will in the first place. And you can create chaos if you're not knowledgeable about what assets require probate and which don't. Assets with named beneficiaries or rights of survivorship don't pass through the probate process, so they should not be included in your will. You could end up throwing a monkey wrench into your probate proceedings if you try to include them and them to someone in your will who doesn't also happen to be the named beneficiary to receive the asset. Another wrinkle is that your will might not be accepted as authentic or valid if you don't include certain required legal terms and phrases. What About Taxes? mediaphotos / Getty Images Most estates aren't subject to an estate tax at the federal level, but some states have their own estate and inheritance taxes that are much different from federal provisions. Your will is an integral part of an estate plan—plan being the operative word. You'll want to prepare for the eventuality if you think your estate might be liable for estate or inheritance taxes down the road. You can take steps now to mitigate the sting of those taxes or even eliminate them entirely...but you have to know what those steps are and how to best use them. If you're not an attorney, you might want to at least consult with someone who is. Books, Software, and Online Programs Carry Disclaimers Hero Images / Getty Images Pretty much every book or software program about estate planning comes with some sort of disclaimer, such as, "The information contained in this book/program is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice, consult with an attorney." So, there you have it. Even books and programs about estate planning recommend that you seek the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney. You might want to have a professional review your finished product for accuracy and validity, even if you do decide to write your will yourself. So Many Laws Keith Brofsky / Getty Images State laws are all over the place when it comes to probate, estate taxes, gift taxes, and inheritance taxes—not to mention the required legal formalities necessary to write and sign a valid will. All these state-specific laws can affect an estate plan, including the definition of descendants, anti-lapse statutes, community property, homestead rights, common law marriages, putative spouses, and disinherited spouses. Generic software generally cannot cover all these state law issues. Laws are always changing, being added, or being repealed even when software offers state-specific programs. Buyer Beware—You Get What You Pay For PeopleImages / Getty Images Would you perform your own surgery or repair your own car? Doing things yourself can save time and money in the short term, but the long-term result might be costly indeed. Estate planning can require seeing around corners. What if the individual to whom you leave the bulk of your estate predeceases you? Your property could pass to the family spendthrift instead if you don't include contingencies for this type of thing in your will. The same goes if you don't plan for those potential estate taxes and your estate does indeed end up owing money. It will come out of your bequests to beneficiaries. A Final Warning Don't forget about real estate you might own outside your home state—chances are that the laws there are different from the laws where you live. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission. "Guardianship Frequently Asked Questions." Tax Foundation. "Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax?"