Ask Jesse: Are there risks involved in using an online site to create your own Last Will & Testament?

Hi, Jesse! I know you are an attorney and you guys are fans of Dave Ramsey. I saw Dave Ramsey’s website has a link for a recommended site for doing your own Last Will & Testament. I would appreciate your opinion on how to go about setting up a will, including guardianship/trustee for children.

I have heard attorneys say those online ones can have inaccuracies which would make the whole document void. I definitely need some guidance in this and I don’t want to go cheap just to save money on something so important. The one attorney I asked for a price said it would cost $900-$1000 to set this up and that sounded like a lot! Thank you! -Beth

Hi Beth,

Whether someone can or should do their own will with a kit or with a discount online company is one of the questions I get most often. And you touch on one of the main reasons that I discourage it generally: the possibility of mistake.

Every estate is different. In addition, every state is different. As such, it is my opinion that if someone is looking at getting a will or estate plan done, they should at the very least talk to a qualified professional who can offer help or some sort of direction.

For some background, Last Wills and Testaments have been around for hundreds of years for devising property to subsequent generations. Generally, it was a matter of common law, or tradition, as to what laws applied and what didn’t.

As we developed as a country, the various states developed its own laws pertaining to land and property within its own state and what constituted the proper documentation to make the transfers. In Kansas, for instance, anyone making a will must have it witnessed by two people and must attest to it, stating before a notary that the will expresses their desires. If it is handwritten and notarized, it is improper and will be invalidated.

Each state is different. There are some states where these handwritten wills (called “holographic”) are fine and will be honored. This said, many of the kits and discount websites are geared toward specific states and, at the very least, should meet the minimums necessary to be valid.

This, though, brings me to my second objection: lack of personal attention. Everyone has individual needs and circumstances for planning and goals and just filling in blanks on a website or on a form is very impersonal and consultation with a legal professional that is knowledgeable in this area may highlight issues not addressed by these kits and sites.

It seems Congress is constantly changing the estate tax threshold, which no doubt is good for business for the high-end estate planners. Nonetheless, it is my opinion that everyone needs to know exactly what they have and exactly where they want it to go and choose whatever route is best for you and your family.  I will caution that you to be careful not to get overcharged or up-sold for these services, though, and shop around.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.

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Ask Jesse: When saving for a home, where should we keep our money?

We are debt-free and want to start saving for a 100% down payment for a house. Do you have any suggestions as to where the money should be held while saving? Savings account or money market? Any info would be appreciated. Thank you, Kelly

What a great goal! It can be daunting at times, but persevere and you will not regret it.

When we were saving for our house, we put every last penny we could squeeze out of our budget in a money market account. The reason we chose to use a money market account was because they do tend to pay more in interest per month than a regular savings account. Plus, you have the benefit of being able to write checks against the account when you want to take money out.

With a savings account, you need to transfer money and do not have as easy access to it. That said, if you like the idea of having an extra safeguard in place so you cannot get at your money very easily for discipline purposes, a savings account is still an okay choice. It all comes down to the reasons for doing what are doing.

Money markets traditionally pay out more in interest because they are tied to a market and carry a little more risk than a savings account. So, if the money markets change, you run the possibility of having your interest rates fluctuate.

In all my times of utilizing this tool, I have never lost money. I have only seen the rate interest is paid out increase or decrease, depending on how the economy is doing.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.

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How Having a Budget Brings Peace to Our Marriage

Guest post from Leanne of Cooking With the Johstons

When I was a teenager, my parents divorced and I saw first-hand that the number one cause for divorce is money problems. As a young adult, I did what I knew and overspent.

At 24, I overdrew my checking account for the umpteenth time. What was different this time was that I had also gone over my limit on all four of my credit cards. I had no cash, no savings, and no safety net. While I’d spent years overspending and overdrawing, this was rock bottom.

Because of that experience, I created a budget. It was the first time I saw on paper that I was spending far more than I was earning and had absolutely nothing to show for it but a car payment, credit cards, and student loans.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered the Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. The concept of living below your means was completely foreign to me. I started to live differently. For the first time in my life, I had peace about money and my future.

Two years later, when I met my husband, I was well on track of being debt free within the year. When we married, my debt turned to our debt. Combined we had $117,000 and were making $40,000 a year; however, we had peace and a plan because we had a budget.

A budget saved our marriage before it even started — here’s why:

  • Having a budget means having a plan — a budget frees us to tell our money what to do each month. We have a plan for every dollar that we earn. We have lots of dreams for the future and know we will achieve them because we have a plan.
  • Having a budget means having peace — things will happen outside of your budget. Children get sick, windows break, and cars break down. A budget takes the emergency out of these situations. It brings peace into the financial inconveniences of life.
  • Having a budget will change your future — without a plan, you will wander aimlessly. Without a budget, you will spend aimlessly with nothing to show for your efforts. A budget puts effort behind dreams.
  • Having a budget helps you stay on the same page with your spouse or family — My husband and I know how much money we have, where it needs to be spent, and what our financial goals are because it is in black and white. If it’s not in the budget, it doesn’t get spent. If we want to spend money on something, we need to agree on it and add it to the budget.

My husband and I have incredible peace in our marriage because of our budget. Our plan allows us to give generously, save for our future, and be in control of our money. Our infant son will have the skills necessary to manage his money and make an impact in the world.

Leanne is an organizational whiz working with youth and young adults in Fort Worth, TX. She is a seminary graduate and a walking warrior. She’s the nerd who loves spreadsheets and finding a good deal. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and infant son, Wesley. Visit her blog, Cooking With the Johstons.

Reposted from May 2012

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Q&A Tuesday: How can we improve communication about finances in our marriage?

My husband and I are newlyweds and are living off of my income while he is in school. We are trying to find a budget that works for us but I find that since I am in charge of the finances primarily I worry about money while he relaxes. Part of this is poor communication but part of it is that I am really focused on tightening up our budget to pay off debts and he thinks we are fine as we are.

So what is the best way to work with your spouse to plan a financial strategy for your family, especially when you may have different ideas or approaches to it? Money is the number one fight in marriages and I want to find a better way to communicate about it so we can work together rather than against each other. -Alice

Disclaimer: I’m not a marriage counselor, nor do I have years of marriage experience under my belt, so I can only speak from my own personal experience as to what has worked for us in our eight and a half years of marriage. This may or may not work in your situation and it may be wise for you to seek out marriage counseling or to find a wise older couple who lives locally who can counsel you as you’re beginning your marriage.

1. Accept That You Are Different

First off, I’m pretty sure all husbands and wives have different ideas about money when they first come into marriage–I know we certainly did. Even though we were both raised by financially conservative parents who taught us the value of hard work and stewardship and even though we spent a lot of time before marriage discussing finances, we definitely still came into marriage with different views and ideas about money.

You didn’t marry your clone–and it’s probably a good thing! You need someone who is different from you to help balance you out. Instead of being discouraged or disheartened that your husband has different views, accept him as he is. Don’t try to change him and make him just like you; it won’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried.

2. Learn to Appreciate the Differences

I tend to be ultra frugal, while my husband tends to be more extravagant (at least according my standards!). This can be a source of frustration for both of us, but we’ve also learned to appreciate and learn from each other.

My husband will readily admit that we’ve saved quite a bit of money over the years thanks to my thriftiness and he’s learned that being frugal doesn’t have to mean you are a miser or miserable. He’s also gotten quite good at saving money himself; in fact, he can sometimes outdo me when it comes to using coupons or getting a great deal!

On the other hand, my husband has taught me much about relaxing a little more when it comes to finances. He’s helped me to think in terms of return on investment and constantly motivates me to make the most of my time when it comes to money-saving ventures. If it weren’t for him, I’d most assuredly be wasting hours on supposed “money-saving projects” that, in reality, would result in little money actually saved.

Together, we make a much more balanced and stronger team than either of us would be on our own. That’s the beauty of learning to appreciate and build on differences instead of letting them just become big battles.

3. Be Willing to Compromise

Since both of us don’t naturally see eye-to-eye when it comes to finances, we’ve had to learn to communicate and compromise. While my husband does all of the bill-paying and budget-tallying at our house because he enjoys that sort of thing (while I find it incredibly tedious!), we both work together on creating and maintaining our budget. This has been key in us getting on same page with our finances.

I’d heartily encourage all couples to have regularly-scheduled monthly Budget Accountability Meetings to discuss your financial situation, to create and revise your written budget, to talk about financial issues that have arisen in the last month, and to review your financial goals and objectives. If you’ve never done this sort of thing before, it may be very difficult going at first, but I promise it will be worth it.

There is one rule that must be followed at these meetings: it must be a mutual discussion. Neither of you should be trying to force anything on the other person. There should be give and take and open discussion. You must both be willing to compromise and talk things through to come to a point of agreement.

Dragging your spouse to the meeting and berating them for their handling of money probably won’t get you anywhere–except in the wrong direction. However, graciously explaining to your spouse how you’ve been struggling with the financial situation and feeling like there is constant tension and frustration in your life as a result of not being on the same page will probably get you somewhere. And showing that you are very open to compromise and reaching agreement that is mutually beneficial will go a long way, too.

Related: How Do I Get My Husband on Board With Debt-Free Living?

reposted from August 2011

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Q&A: How do I get my husband on board with living a debt-free life?

I am just beginning on my mission to get out of debt, live more simply, and find happiness with the bounty that I have before me. I feel inspired and motivated and have put together a rough plan about how to accomplish this. My problem is getting my family on board.

My husband falls victim to “needing” the latest gadget, random shopping trips, and keeping up with the neighbors’ latest toys. I take care of the budget and bill paying but I don’t want to treat him like a child and control all of his spending. How do I get everyone on board with living a simple and happy life? -Stephanie

This question is something that comes into my email in various forms on an almost weekly basis — and my heart goes out to all of you who are struggling to get on the same page with your spouse financially.

I’m not a marriage expert and I’ve been blessed with a husband who is goal-oriented and a bit of a nerd when it comes to spreadsheets (I use the term “nerd” endearingly!), so I can’t guarantee that I have any brilliant words of wisdom to offer. But we’ve had a number of other areas where we’ve not always seen eye-to-eye on in our marriage and here are some things I’ve learned — mostly the hard way!

1) Nagging Doesn’t Work

If you want to ruin your relationship, start trying to nag and drag your spouse along with your latest and greatest ideas. It’s a recipe for disaster — and discord.

2) It Has To Be an Us Thing, Not a Me Thing

There is no “I” in team. If you want to successfully get on the same page, it has to be a game plan you come up with together.

Don’t expect your spouse to jump on board with you. Instead, ask your spouse if you can sit down together and talk about where you both are financially and where you both want to go together.

3) Compromise Is Key

When you sit down to discuss your finances, come with an open mind. Don’t have everything all mapped out and badger your spouse into signing off on your plan.

Share your concerns in a gentle manner and then listen to your spouse’s thoughts and concerns. If they see that you genuinely want to work with them and want to hear their heart on the matter, they are going to be much more apt to join you in the journey. But they will likely resist from the get-go if you don’t seem to care about their desires and or have any willingness to compromise.

4) Give Grace — And Some Breathing Room!

In most marriages there is one spouse who is more of a spender and one who is more of a saver. In our marriage, my husband is the spender and I’m the saver.

For me, I’d be pretty much fine with rarely ever spending money. However, I’ve learned that my husband is happier when he has a little breathing room in the budget.

But instead of our opposite natures causing a lot of conflict, we’ve actually helped balance each other out. Since being married, my husband has become more frugal and careful in how we steward our money and I’ve learned to lighten up and learn to enjoy life a little more.

Because of our different personalities and natures, we’ve found a beautiful compromise in an agreed-upon blow category in our budget. We each get an allotted amount of money that we can spend on whatever we’d like, whenever we’d like. This set-up has worked well for us and prevented many unnecessary arguments over money.

When we both accept our differences, agree to compromise, set goals for our family together, and give each other grace, we have so much more unity. And this unity propels us to both be working together to wisely steward our money — instead of constantly fighting and bickering over stuff that really isn’t going to matter too much in 25 years from now.

For more suggestions, check out my post on How Can We Improve Communication About Finances In Marriage?

I’d love for the rest of you to chime in with advice and suggestions for Stephanie. What has worked to help you improve communication about finances with your spouse?

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Is it possible for us to live on $460 a week?

Is it Possible to Live on $460 Per Week?

I have been following your site for a few years now. I have a pretty difficult question for you. My husband is a youth pastor and makes $460 per week. We have three children with one on the way.

We want to save and budget better but don’t know how to on such a small amount. We do not have cable, or internet at home and the only thing we do that we do extra is eat out due to our crazy ministry schedule. Any help or suggestions would be AMAZING!!! -A very stressed wife

My heart goes out to you in the stress you’re experiencing! I wish I could hug you in person and tell you it’s going to be okay.

You might have some tough days ahead of you, but you are going to survive. So don’t lose hope, okay? That’s the first step to your success.

Here are some practical ideas and suggestions that I thought of for your particular situation:

1) Get On a Strict Written Budget

It’s easy to feel discouraged when you only have a little bit of income coming in, but I know many, many families who are surviving on $460 per week or quite a bit less. So it is entirely possible.

But a budget is imperative. Even if you feel like you don’t have enough coming in, you need to maximize the mileage of every penny you’ve got and a budget is the best way to do that.

I highly recommend reading The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Your library should have a copy. It will walk you step-by-step through the basics of setting up and sticking with a written budget.

2) Prioritize Your Basic Necessities

Once you have your budget put together (and I’d heartily encourage you to sit down and get it done by this weekend, if at all possible), really go over it with a fine-toothed comb and consider what your basic necessities are. These will be things like food, shelter, transportation, and clothing.

What are the barebones payments/purchases that you must make to survive? Make these items your top priority in the budget before considering spending money on anything that is a non-necessity.

Often, when you strip your budget down to the barebones, you’ll realize that you actually have more wiggle room than you first thought you did. And that’s always an encouraging thing!

3) Cut Everything You Can Possibly Cut

Taking the time to consider and determine your basic necessities will prepare you for this step: to cut out as many expenses as you can. It sounds like you’ve already cut many things — like cable and internet — but you could definitely cut out eating out, as painful as it may be.

Find creative ways to make meals at home more doable by using the crockpot, having freezer foods and snacks at-the-ready, and prepping ahead for the week on the weekends. It’s not a fun proposition to give up eating out, but remind yourself that it’s a short-term sacrifice you are making for the good of your family’s budget and for long-term success.

4) Experiment With Ways to Bring In Additional Income

If you can carve out a few extra hours each week, put these toward doing things to increase your income. Sell anything you have that you don’t need on Craigslist, eBay, or in a garage sale. Look into the possibility of doing house-cleaning, teaching classes, or babysitting. If all else fails, there’s always the option of getting a newspaper route.

I encourage you to read The Other 8 Hours and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think if you’re feeling like you just don’t have any extra moments in your week to put toward income-earning possibilities.

5) Don’t Give Up Hope

As I said in the beginning, your attitude will make or break this situation.  A can-do, committed, creative attitude will take you worlds further than a frustrated, complaining attitude will. And I promise you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more, too.

Choose to bloom where you’re planted — even if it feels like it’s among thorns!

What advice do the rest of you have for this reader? Please chime in with encouragement and practical tips in the comments!

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