Where There's A Will : WillMaker
Author: Larry Goldberg
Date: May, 1994
Keywords: Nolo Press application program review death legal lawyer
Text: We all know we will die eventually, (no one gets out alive, I'm afraid), but we typically try to avoid the inevitable. I have to say that the process of making my will for this review was somewhat unsettling insofar as it caused me to think about such issues as: when do I want someone to pull the plug if I become a vegetable, and; who is going to dispose of my assets when I'm gone? When I received the program I got version 4.01 with a beta version of 5.1. After looking at the original version, it became clear that version 5.1 was a vastly superior product and bug-free; therefore it should be on the market at the time of this review. Your will, your health care direc-tions and your final arrangements are now included in a single program. Nolo makes several other products and one in partic-ular, Nolo's Personal Record Keeper, sounded like a worth-while companion product to WillMaker. Like comedian George Carlin says, we all have a lot of ''stuff'' to keep track of. WillMaker allows you to make bequests of some of your stuff, but it really makes sense to direct your executor to where you keep all your stuff (thus the need for Personal Record Keeper). Once you start the process, WillMaker makes a ''portfolio'' in your name. The document is very small (10-15K) and maintains the changes you make up to the last time you worked-thus allowing a works-in-progress approach so you can work in stages, or update your will at any time. The authors make clear that a will, like most personal documents which you maintain over time, must be updated and modified as things change in your life-marriage, children, divorce or death of spouse, financial changes (not necessarily in that order, mind you), etc. I found the process very straightforward-entering family names, etc*through a screen-by-screen ''interview'' process. Unfortunately, the process does arouse some deep feelings. For example, when asked to designate an executor (the person to carry out your instructions after your death) I went through a personal catharsis. This is probably good; it's just that we normally don't think about such things. Personal Will The personal will is the keystone to the WillMaker program. Here is where you designate your personal representative, guardianship of children, debts to forgive, liabilities of your estate, estate and inheritance taxes, and other important decisions. The WillMaker program walks you through the process in a logical step-by-step method which allows you to review your decisions and go back, if necessary. Included in the package, as well, were envelopes for your and your spouse's wills which need to be printed and witnessed to become effective. The program allowed for viewing prior to printing and had explicit instructions on how to sign your will and have it witnessed to become legal. Online & audio Help A cassette tape is included with a step-by-step explanation, and help menus are always available to get specific definitions of legal terms or detailed explanations for specific issues. The cassette tape ''walks'' you through the will making process and explains the reasons why things are done the way they are. With the easy-to-use online help menus it's not only possible to get specific definitions and legal explanations, but also you can ''bookmark'' a particular help item to go back to it later, if you choose. The program also has built-in error correction. For example, when filling out the healthcare directives, if you request that food and water not be administered artificially (e.g. by feeding tube) but you do want comfort from pain (which generally involves drugs) you receive two warning screens to make sure you read the specific, slightly contractictory definitions found in the help menu. Fortunately for us living in California, many of the details required in other states are not necessary (the state law dictates how assets must be distributed in case a will does not exist) but you can save a lot of money and time in probate by specifically addressing certain issues to clarify matters after your death. Living Will - Healthcare directions - In the 5.1 beta version, healthcare and ''final arrangements'' elements have been added to the program; to direct your medical care in case of terminal illness or permanent coma. WillMaker asks you to set out your healthcare wishes without concern for state law limitations and the documents produced are valid under your state's law and also assert your rights under the U.S. Constitution. As you may or may not know, unless there are specific instructions left by you in case you are injured and unable to direct your own care (e.g. a permanent coma), the state and federal laws will prescribe what means will be used to maintain your condition. Final arrangements - while this may seem morbid, this is an important step in the final planning tied to the WillMaker process. The final arrangements module sets forth your wishes for funeral arrangements and your final resting place. At the time of a person's death, this could be a very important tool to guide your loved ones in making the necessary final arrangements for you. System requirements: 1.8 MB on disk (1.4 MB for program alone), 512 K RAM WillMaker retails for $69.95, (mail order $34.98) and includes disks, reference book and audio cassette tape; available from Nolo Press 510/549-1976. A note on Nolo Press Known as a leader in do-it-yourself legal matters, the Nolo Press publishes a wide variety of self-help legal books and software. Among the topics listed in the Nolo catalog are consumer & reference, estate planning & probate, family matters, going to court, homeowners, landlords & tenants issues, immigration, money matters, seniors, patents, small business law, patents & copyrights and workplace law. Nolo publishes software, forms and other legal assistance documents and, from all that I've seen to date, they are a good value with comprehensive coverage of important legal issues.
Copyright © may, 1994 by Larry Goldberg