Dear Mary: I’m 50, married and have two adult children. Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a will and know that I should. Can I put faith in a simple will done by one of the large online companies, or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years and appreciate your advice. Thank you. — Jenny
Jenny: Thank you for the trust you put in me. That is something I value highly. My quick answer is that you and your husband need individual wills, plus four other legal documents as well. I have a resource to recommend to you, which will help you do this yourself — a reputable legal help organization I believe you can trust without reservation.
Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that, because every situation is different. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and be well protected once all of your information and desires are written down in proper legal order. You can always take that to an attorney, if or when you find it necessary.
There are five legal documents every adult must have — each one signed, dated, notarized as necessary and kept in a safe place that someone else knows about and can retrieve on a moment’s notice.
NO. 1: WILL
If you have minor children, your will is where you name guardians for those children. Your will also names your executor — the person who will oversee and protect your interests if your estate needs to go to probate. Your will handles the assets you hold in your name alone.
NO. 2: HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY
If you are unable to make medical decisions yourself, you need to name someone else to make those decisions on your behalf. I highly recommend that you name up to five people in successive order to make sure there is someone there who is authorized to make these decisions for you.
NO. 3: DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY
This is the document where you are designating one or more people to handle the financial aspects of your life should you become temporarily or permanently unable to do so due to mental or physical incapacitation— things like picking up your mail, filing your income tax return, moving money from one account to another or filing for Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security.
NO. 4: LIVING WILL
Also called an advance directive, this states what you want to have happen with respect to extraordinary measures to keep you alive, should you be terminal or permanently unconscious.
NO. 5: REVOCABLE TRUST
This is the document that avoids the probate court process when someone becomes incapacitated or dies. This document does other things as well, but that is the most important.
I want to recommend Quicken WillMaker and Trust 2020 from Nolo Press, a highly regarded and reputable online legal organization specializing in helping ordinary folks like you and me handle our own basic legal needs.
Quicken WillMaker and Trust 2020 includes dozens of forms, including the big five documents mentioned above, and also practical forms you can use every day to help run your home and keep your family safe, including authorizations and agreements, promissory notes, limited powers of attorney, child and elder care forms, and lots more.
To learn more, go to https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/will.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”
This column is an update from an “Everyday Cheap
skate” column published in 2018.