By Stan Butterfield

Can you write your own will in Oregon? The short answer to this question is yes you can. You can get on the internet, use Google to find a form and write out a will. I practice law in Dallas, Oregon, a small town eleven miles West of Salem. We are a rural community and I think a lot of people here still have a little bit of the old pioneer mindset of self-reliance. This means that if they can do something on their own, they prefer to do it that way. Also, I believe that many folks are trying to save money and think writing their own will is a good place to do it.

a pen writing on paper

What are the problems with writing your own will?

When I was a new lawyer I spent a lot of time in the criminal courts. One judge in the Polk County Circuit Court used to have a standard response when a defendant would say they wanted to represent themselves. The judge would say, “Well, you have a right to do that, but can I tell you a story? I knew a person that broke their arm and decided they could set it on their own without going to the doctor. Now it is possible that it could have healed just fine, and in this person’s case the arm did heal, but it always looked a little crooked after that. Now, would you like to represent yourself or would you like me to appoint a lawyer for you?”

The same point applies in the case of writing your own will. You can do it, but things may not turn out the way you had hoped. You may be able to write the will and save yourself, or your surviving family some money, but it is more likely that you won’t. Even if you do write a will that has language that is legally valid, often the way the will is signed is not going to be acceptable to the courts or will cause issues that require further proof that this was actually your will.

The unintended consequences

I have had the experience many times of having a client come into my office when someone has died and they present me with a will that was not properly written, signed, or witnessed. Despite the decedent’s best intentions the will is invalid and the State of Oregon ends up deciding how their money and property are going to be divided. When this happens, my mind always goes back to an old English saying, that the person was “penny wise and pound foolish” meaning that they save a little money up front, but ended up losing a lot of money in the end. I always feel bad when the grieving heir who is already heart broken at the loss of the loved one is now further devastated that the estate is not going to be distributed as the couple had thought it would happen. The rules of probate, or how an estate is settled, can be harsh if a will is not done properly it may be as if there was no will at all. To learn more about how an estate is settled if a will is not valid, click here.

The benefits of having a plan

The fact that you are even trying to find out more about the way wills are written shows that you understand the importance of having a will. To learn more about wills and the documents that should be part of any basic estate plan, click here. I congratulate you on trying to be proactive in planning for the future and leaving things in the best possible way for your family. This gives a person a peace of mind that cannot be achieved in any other way.

Stan Butterfield is a lawyer that practices in Polk, Marion, Yamhill, and Linn counties in Oregon. If you believe that Stan might be able to help you with some of your planning, give him a call—(503) 623-2427. He is able to help with wills in Salem, Oregon and the entire state.