last will and testament document with quill pen and handwriting

While I, along with so many fans, mourned the recent death of Aretha Franklin—a giant in the world of music—I was shocked to learn she did not have a Will or any kind of Trust.

Her attorney stated that he constantly asked her to do that, but she just never got around to it.

last will and testament document with quill pen and handwriting

Aretha’s four sons have filed a document listing themselves as interested parties, reports say. I hope they’re prepared for the long and arduous rollercoaster ride that settling her estate will be.

The four of them—along with all others who choose to contest and are successful—will share in her estate but only after attorneys take their share in fees, which will be nothing short of shocking.

On the same day as Aretha’s memorial service, and quite coincidentally, I heard from Bettye.

My husband insists that the Will we created 25 years ago, when our oldest was an infant and we lived in another state, is sufficient. I do not!

How do we go about finding a competent lawyer to create a simple Will? I’ve asked friends for recommendations, but nothing has come of that. Also, what should a basic Will cover?

I need the peace-of-mind that comes from having our affairs in order. Bettye

Dear Bettye: I want to applaud you for recognizing this need but even more than that, for your tenacity. I do have a solution for you that I am certain will bring you and your husband great peace of mind. But first, let me lay some simple groundwork.

Every adult needs his or her own Will—one that is frequently updated and compliant with the laws of the state in which that person maintains permanent residence. I cannot stress enough how important this is: At the very minimum you and your husband need your own separate Wills. 

To die intestate (without a Will or with a Will that is not lawful for any number of reasons) is to leave a big fat mess for your survivors. Without a proper Will, you run the risk of seeing that the assets you intended to leave to one another or to your heirs are gobbled up by the state and attorneys’ fees.

A Will simply states to whom you wish to leave your earthly goods. It does not preclude probate, but it allows the state to know your wishes as to the disposition of your assets. 

A Family Trust, on the other hand, is more extensive, deals with the issues of probate but does not take the place of a Will. It is a document that is created to accompany one’s Will. 

Drawing up a Will is one of the simplest jobs that an attorney does for a client. You could call the Chamber of Commerce in your city to get a recommendation for an attorney who specializes in Wills and Trusts, or, a better idea, in my opinion, do it yourself. Doing this yourself will empower you because you will actually know and understand what’s in your important documents.

Please take a look at Quicken WillMaker Plus 2019 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 Plus 2019 includes dozens of forms including the big five documents every adult needs, of which a Will is one—plus 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, and child and elder care forms. 

I see that you live in Arizona. Quicken WillMaker Plus 2019 is compatible with the laws in every U.S. state (except for Louisiana*, U.S. Territories; not compatible with Canada). And boy is it easy to use—just fill in the blanks. And you can revise it in the future as necessary, without another big legal bill.

You can purchase this program, which is a simple download from Nolo Press for $80, compatible with both Windows and Mac. I find that to be a very reasonable price for the peace-of-mind it offers.

 Then, in the privacy of your own home, customize your individual Wills—all before tomorrow morning. 

And you can depend on those documents to be properly prepared, completely legal and simple for those whom you will designate to be in charge of your finances, health, and possessions—if and when the times comes.

I hope this helps, Bettye. I’ve heard from countless readers for whom this resource has provided the solution they’d been looking for but had no idea existed.

I’d love to know how this works for you and your husband.

*Because of Louisiana’s strict requirements, it is not wise to rely on a generic “Last Will and Testament” form. Failure to get the form exactly right will result in an invalid document or perhaps worse, lead to estate litigation due to Louisiana’s unique civil law system.

Nolo does offer this simple Willmaker for Louisiana residents that has been prepared and vetted by a team of attorneys. If you live in Louisiana and wish to also create your Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive, see a Louisiana lawyer for help.