Clark Howard: Cheapest ways to draw up your will

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What are the odds you don’t have a will? Best guess is that half of us don’t have one.

For some folks, that may be OK — especially if they’re single, have nothing, and own nothing. But if you have kids, you need a will for the simple fact that if you don’t have one, the state will decide who raises them if you die.

That’s the reality in the absence of any written direction from you. Ditto if you’re living without the benefit of marriage. In many cases, your partner will not be considered to inherit your estate unless you put it in writing.

People automatically assume that all assets go to their spouse upon death. But it doesn’t play that way. The reality is that the law varies by state. When you die without a will, the state decides who gets what. In Georgia, when someone dies without a will their spouse only gets a third of the estate and the rest is divided among other family members.

Some people use the excuse that doing a will is too complicated and too expensive for them to undertake. I don’t buy that.

It’s true that if you have a complicated life you’ll need to go see a lawyer who specializes in wills, estates and trusts. However, if you have a simple situation, I like the WillMaker software that you can pay around $50 to use through Nolo.com. They do a great job of asking interactive questions to guide you through the process. LegalZoom.com would be another way to get it done on the cheap.

Lawyers get antsy when I talk about this because they think about every disaster that’s ever happened when people have self-prepared a will. But the biggest disaster is not having a will at all.

So what about you? Make sure those you leave behind are well taken care of.

Clark Howard — Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs — for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark’s website

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