Are online wills valid and should I get one?

When done correctly, online wills can be just as legal as one created by a licensed attorney and considerably less expensive.

Elissa

Elissa Suh

Published October 18, 2019

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • To make an online will, you will answer questions or fill out a template

  • After creating your will online, you still need to take a few extra steps to make it legal

  • The best online will maker will depend on your personal and financial situation; online will cost under $100 but you will pay a fee to talk to legal experts

  • Legal services may cost more up front, but a solid will could save your beneficiaries time and money in the future

A last will and testament is a legal document that provides instructions on how to distribute your property and belongings when you die. It is an important part of an estate plan that everyone should have. When planning for the future, you want to be secure knowing that your assets will go to whom you want them to when you pass away.

The will contains the wishes of the testator (will maker), which not only includes who receives your assets and personal property, but also the appointment of an executor and a guardian for any minor children. You can use the will to donate things to charities, too.

In many cases, a will doesn’t need to consist of too much information. If you have a small or modest-sized estate, it can be enough to simply name a few beneficiaries and which assets you’d like them to have when you pass away.

Traditionally a will is drafted by an attorney; in fact there is a specific kind of legal professional called an estate planning attorney who specializes in these matters. It might cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on how complex your personal situation is. Generally the more things you have to give away – the larger your estate — the more costly it will be.

That’s why many people turn to online will-writing services. Essentially, these services will generate a will for you, either by asking you questions or having you fill out an online form or downloadable template. The costs vary, but they typically start under $100.

There are pros and cons to writing your own will, filling out a template, or using an online service. If done correctly, an online will is just as legal as one created by a lawyer, and it may be considerably less expensive. You’ll still have to follow some additional steps to make the will valid. In this article:

Are online wills valid?

An online will can be as valid as a will drafted by a legal professional, like an estate planning attorney, as long as the will has all the proper requirements. Different states require different things, but most commonly they are:

  • A declaration by the testator that they are of sound mind and of their intention to bequeath assets
  • The testator’s signature
  • Signature of disinterested witnesses — may be more or less depending on the state’s requirements and witnesses’ relation to you

Learn more about how wills work.

How to create an online will

Many different companies offer online-will writing services. Several different types of options exist, from using a service that walks you through the process or downloading a template and filling in the form yourself. Both types of service essentially work the same way: you use the website or online software to generate the text of your last will and testament.

Any online service or software you choose will offer step-by-step instructions. You will generally need to provide the following information to generate a will:

  • Your name and address
  • Relationship status and the name of your spouse if applicable
  • Names and ages of any children
  • Who should act as executor
  • A list or description of your assets
  • Specific bequests
  • How remaining assets (the residue) should be distributed
  • Funeral or burial requests

Depending on the service you chose, you might receive a PDF or hardcopy of your will in the mail. There are a few more steps after you’ve received a copy to validate your will.

After creating an online will

  1. Sign the will The will is not valid without your signature. Some online services may allow you to electronically sign the document. You will also need the signature of two witnesses.

  2. Notarize the will A will doesn’t have to be notarized to be legally binding — holographic wills are just one example) that illustrates this. However, getting the will notarized can help make the process of proving it — probate — much easier for your heirs in the future. Notarization requirements vary by state law. The online will makers typically include further instructions on what to do next based on where you are.

  3. Keep the will in a safe place You might think to store a copy of the will in a secure location, like a safe deposit box. However, this can be disadvantageous if it cannot be opened once you’ve passed. Perhaps you can give a copy to a person you trust. Some people might choose a close family member who is a beneficiary, while others may prefer a more disinterested individual.

Make sure to have another copy in your records. If the will can’t be found after your death, you may be considered intestate, which means that a court will decide how to divide up the assets based on your state’s intestacy laws.

If you want to be extra cautious, you may be able to file a will at your local court. Only certain people – named by you at the time of filing – are allowed to pick up the will after you die. If you amended the will with a codicil) you have to redistribute the will to everyone so there’s no confusion about which version to use.

Cost of online wills

The costs of online wills can vary. You can find online forms or templates that are free to fill out, resulting in a completed will. Prices for online will services generally start around $20, and may increase if you want to add other legal forms and documents, like powers of attorney. You may also have to pay an additional cost for any revisions to your will.

Some online will-making companies offer legal advice from an independent attorney. The pricing varies; you might be charged for one-time consultation or on a monthly basis with a subscription, or even per question asked. Keep in mind these costs may add up, and generally many lawyers (not contracted through the online service) offer free consultations in person.

Here is a look at the cost of a few online will-writing services. Keep in mind that these are just base level prices.

Online will-makerCost
Doyourown willFree
FabricFree
LegalZoom$89
Quicken WillMaker$89
Rocket Lawyer$39.99
Total Legal$19.95
U.S. Legal Wills$40
Willing$69

Prices current as of October 2019.

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Takeaway

A will is the best way to ensure your property goes to your loved ones after you die.

Should I get an online will?

A will you create online should function just like any other will — you declare what assets your beneficiaries will inherit after you die. Then you sign it along with witnesses and any applicable notarization. Because it’s so simple, there are lots of good reasons to do it.

It’s affordable

Using an online service to create a will can save you money. Most services charge less than $100 to write a basic will, while hiring a lawyer can cost thousands of dollars.

If you have a small estate

If you don’t have much personal property to give away, a simple online will, or even a will you draft yourself, could be all that you need.

Online wills are better than no will

Because an online will is so quick and easy to create, it functions as a great “introductory” will for people who are younger and don’t have much property or high-value assets.

As you get older and your assets increase in value, you can update your will (with a codicil) later in life to account any for new wealth. At this point, you may want to consult a legal authority to draft an estate plan, or you can still create a new will online.

Disadvantages of online wills

While the DIY will is an attractive option for creating an inheritance for your loved ones, it can fall short.

Making a will online is easy and cheap, but it may not be the best option for everyone. If you’re wealthy and have a large estate (maybe you own multiple real estate properties or a business), are concerned about taxes, or have many beneficiaries, then you probably won’t benefit as much from creating a will online.

It might be better to create a trust and get advice from an estate planning attorney.

Using an online service may not get you the same personalized service and legal advice as you would when you see an attorney face-to-face at a law firm. As a result, your online will could leave gaps in your estate. Common pitfalls include forgetting an asset, misnaming an asset, and not accounting for what happens if your beneficiary passes away before you.

For example, what if you made a beneficiary designation for your bank accounts but separately named someone else to receive them in your will? A lawyer could have told you that payable-on-death accounts, including a life insurance policy, don't need to be bequeathed through a will.

An attorney can help ask the right questions that you may not have even considered. Like any other type of lawyer, it’s their job to play devil’s advocate, think of the worst-case scenario, and poke holes in your theory. All of this will ensure you have the most solid estate plan.

While creating a will online may be very affordable, it can cost your heirs a lot of money in the long run. During probate, if there are any inconsistencies or ambiguities, it might be contested by someone, a potential beneficiary, or interpreted differently than what you meant by the probate court.

A poorly written will can cause probate to go on for years. During this time, the legal fees will take away from the inheritance you left your beneficiaries, potentially leaving them with nothing.

An estate lawyer can create a will more customized for your situation that smoothly passes through probate.

Learn more about what happens when you contest a will.

Additional parts of an estate plan

Creating an online will is just one part of an estate plan. There are other important legal documents, including a power of attorney, a living will, and a letter of instruction. Learn more about the other essential estate planning documents.

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Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by a certified financial planner or advisor. It’s intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal, financial, or investment advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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