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Oregon Estate Law: Wills and Trusts: Forms and “Self-Help” Advice

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This is an update to previous posts on estate planning (and on pro se litigants):

Public law libraries, and public libraries generally, get a lot of questions from people (non-attorneys) who want to write their own wills, draft their own powers of attorney, and who want fill-in-the-blank estate planning legal forms.

1) If you have no money, no property, no children or relatives in Oregon or any other state, no heirs, no interest in leaving what you do have to a charity or nonprofit, and don’t care if what remains of your estate (everything) goes to the tax collector and/or the state general fund, you don’t have to read on.

2) If you have any, some, or all of those, money, children, heirs, beneficiaries, etc., please read on:

a) Yes, you can write your own will. Yes, you can write a darn good one and one that says what you want it to say and is enforceable, assuming you do the research. (And even then, I’d still have an Oregon attorney who specializes in estate planning look it over.)

b) However, if you are one of the (tens of) thousands who walk into libraries or bookstores with only questions about wills, but with no paper, pencil, or time to do the research, then my advice to you is:

Please consult an attorney!

3) Do plan to hire an attorney if you have children, property, siblings, a spouse (current, former, and/or domestic partner), a bank account, a retirement account, investments, or any interest in leaving part or all of your estate to a dependent, an heir, a friend, a charity, someone in another state, etc.

4) There is a difference between DIY legal research and DIY lawyering. When it comes to writing a will, keep in mind that you won’t be around to fix anything if the documents aren’t prepared properly and you will hurt only the people you love the most if you get it wrong.

5) Yes, you can do a lot of the preparation yourself – and I highly recommend you do so! It will save you time and money when you do consult an attorney.

6) If you plan to prepare your own documents and consult afterward with an Oregon attorney to review them, be prepared for some serious research. You will need to visit a Law Library. IT’S NOT ALL ONLINE. Few Oregon legal forms (mostly samples, not official) are available online. They are available in legal treatises, periodicals, course books, and from subscription databases.

7) If you plan to hire an attorney to prepare your will and related estate documents, please don’t spend a lot of filling out forms you find online or in a book. Self-help materials are an excellent way to learn about the documents you will need and the decisions you will need to make. They will also prepare you for questions your attorney may ask.

8) DO spend time gathering the documentation you need. Most attorneys have their own forms and if you’ve seen them the way I’ve seen them gnashing their teeth while trying to convert “self-help” forms to law office forms, you’ll heed my advice. That teeth-gnashing costs you, the client, money and sometimes a lot of it. That first consultation with your attorney will tell you what the process will cost and what documentation and information will be needed to draft your will (and related documents).

Disclaimer: It is against state law for library staff members to engage in any conduct that might constitute the unauthorized practice of law (ORS 9.160 to 9.166). They may not interpret statutes, cases or regulations, perform legal research, recommend or assist in the preparation of forms, or advise patrons regarding their legal rights. They may, however, assist patrons in locating materials or links that would aid in individual research.

We recommend you check with an attorney. The Oregon State Bar Information and Referral Service has a toll free number to call to get names of attorneys in your area; call their referral service at 503-684-3763 or 1-800-452-7636.