More on Wills
More on Wills
When done correctly, online wills can be just as legal as one created by a licensed attorney and considerably less expensive.
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. If you don't have a will, then the probate court will decide what to do with your assets after you're gone.
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. However, now you can get a will from Policygenius for $120.
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.
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With Policygenius, you can create a tailored will using attorney-approved tools, without the attorney price tag.
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.
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.
With Policygenius, you'll be guided through the process of making a will using attorney-approved tools tailored to your state. Get started now.
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
How remaining assets (the residue) should be distributed
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.
Sign the will The will is not valid without your signature. You will also need the signature of two witnesses.
Notarize the will Any will with a self-proving affidavit, including online wills, will need to be notarized. If a will doesn't include a self-proving affidavit, then it doesn’t have to be notarized to be legally binding. 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.
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, so that it's easier to find the will after you die. 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 of the will, 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. Generally, only the original will can be probated, but a court may use a copy of your will to help them decide how to distribute your property if the original will can’t be found.
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.
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. You can get a will from Policygenius for $120.
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.
Note that if you want to say what happens to your assets after you're gone, you'll need a will. Otherwise, a probate court will make that decision and it could be contradictory to what your wishes would've been while you were alive.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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Elissa Suh is a personal finance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about finance and insurance since 2019, with an emphasis in esate planning and mortgages. Her writing has been cited by MarketWatch, CNBC, and Betterment.
Elissa has a B.A. in Film Studies from Barnard College.
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