Can I Write My Own Will Without an Attorney?
I encounter this question a lot in my estate planning practice. I am also asked if I can simply review a handwritten or typed Will that a client has drafted for him or herself.
I’m not alone in refusing to review and approve documents drafted by clients. The majority of attorneys will refuse to give the “o.k.” to a document that was not created by them and the reason is simple – they do not want to assume the liability for any legal consequences that could arise out of a document that was drafted by a person who has not been trained in wording legal documents. If you already have a negative opinion of the legal profession, this probably sounds like the attorney is being haughty and trying to add work to rack up your legal fees.
Let’s be optimistic for a moment. There is a valid reason why the language in most legal documents sounds so archaic. No, it’s not so your attorney may charge more for deciphering it. The language in the legal document has to comply with South African legislation in order for the document to have the legal outcome that the client is requesting. Because so many of our laws do not change very much from year to year, the language will sound out of date and confusing to the modern reader.
Ideally, your legal document should work like an efficiently planned-out road map so that the Master, courts and others in the legal profession will all understand exactly what your directions are and how to get to the intended destination. The statutes and the provisions in the document work together to accomplish this.
Can you write your own Will and will it be legally effective? Sure as long as the requirements in the Wills Act (7 of 1953) are complied with. However, would I recommend it? No, because even your best intentions may not come out right if you are not aware of certain legal provisions that should be drafted into the document.
In other words, you may write your own Will and you may rely on Will drafting software, but if you don’t follow the legal requirements, your wishes may not be carried out exactly as you had intended.