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TheStreet Open House

How to Know If You Need a Lawyer to Write Your Will

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Why are so many adults so lax about their estate planning, including not having a will in place?

According to Nolo, a Berkeley, Calif., publisher of consumer legal guides, almost half of U.S consumers tracked by the company say they don't have a will, and a majority said they "had no idea" on how to get started creating one.

A will lets people control their assets and determine how their estate will be managed after death.This "last will and testament" allows a "testator" to select heirs and distribute assets accordingly, and without one the state in which the person dies will probably decide instead.

Nolo also says the average cost of creating a will, using a lawyer, is about $1,400.

It can be less with a do-it-yourself will, which is what Nolo suggests people do. (It sells do-it-yourself estate planning kits for $43 on the Web.)

But is it a good idea? There are pros and cons.

For example, rules governing wills vary by state. That could complicate matters if you don't know your state's rules on key issues such as the definition of the terms "descendants" and "community property" or issues related to common-law marriages.

A basic do-it-yourself will may not cover those issues adequately and may be better handled by an experienced estate planning attorney.

Then there are mitigating factors that could complicate matters in writing your will without an attorney's help. If you have considerable assets (from different properties, a business or multiple investment accounts) maybe you shouldn't take the risk of having those assets misappropriated from a do-it-yourself will.

But if you're leaving assets only to immediate family or to one or two people, a do-it-yourself will is, well, doable.

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