Who can write your will? Only these three people

I am not in the business of writing wills, but as a holistic wealth manager and financial planner, I often need to ask whether clients have an updated will. If not, I believe I have a duty to make a referral to the best person I believe can help write your will, if you need help (and I accept no commissions or other kickbacks for any of these referrals). As I posted earlier in my review of the book “101 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes“, having no will, an out of date will, or an improperly executed will are among the most obvious mistakes and easiest to fix. So I felt it was useful to post a simple outline of the only three people who can write your will properly, in my opinion:

#1: Your lawyer

The most obvious person to ask for advice on your will is probably your lawyer. The advantage of having a lawyer-drafted will is that a qualified lawyer is most likely to have experience working through several probate cases, and having seen which clauses in a will probated in your jurisdiction are likely to best carry out your wishes. A good estate planning lawyer will often also suggest whether different forms of trusts or other estate planning tools might help you save on liability, taxes, or probate fees down the road, earning their fee many times over.

Two somewhat minor disadvantages of having your lawyer write your will are: a.) cost – lawyer-written wills are likely to be the most expensive up-front, but also likely to be the best for you if you have a large estate, and b.) jurisdiction – your lawyer is probably licensed and experienced in the jurisdiction where you live, but very few are likely to have cross border experience across all the countries many global families have assets in. The more international lawyers will at least know about the UNIDROIT convention on an international will.

#2: A will writer or template provider

A more “off the rack” solution for those seeking a professionally written will is to go to a template provider or local will writing specialist. These are not law firms, but rather have created standard templates covering many common clauses most people are likely to need in their will, and so are able to offer you a “standardized” will at relatively low cost. This may be a fine enough choice for those who feel their situation is standard enough, or don’t want to be bothered with the first or third option, but it is worth asking whether the savings in cost and time would be worthwhile if the estate could have any complexities these templates may not cover. A good provider of these standard wills should have enough of a “flowchart” to ask the right questions about where you have what type of assets, to deliver a different will to someone with one bank account in Singapore vs another client with houses in France, Macau and Mainland China. I posted earlier about the specifics of wills and estate planning in Hong Kong.

I would have expected more online will template services to offer 100% electronic wills, even if traditional providers prefer paper, though this does rely on local courts’ recognition of electronic signatures by notaries and witnesses.

#3: You can write your own will

Although not for everyone, it is worth pointing out that in most jurisdictions, it is perfectly legal to write your own will. There are many formalities required for a self-written will to be more robust than a handwritten holographic will, which generally include that it be type-written or printed, securely stapled (to ensure no pages have been inserted), signed by the testator, and signed by at least two witnesses (depending where you live, a notary or third witness may also be required). There are also “traps” in different jurisdictions about who or how you can disinherit property, which of your assets can not pass by your will, or other relevant details that your lawyer or local will writing professional is likely to know that many individuals simply don’t know.

So who can write your will? It’s down to you, your lawyer, or a template will writing service, though you are the most important decision maker in making sure it gets done and not put off. Even the best or most cost effectively written will is useless if you never get around to executing it.