Disclaimer: The information in this article should not be taken as legal or financial advice.
As an end-of-life planning company, we get asked about do-it-yourself online wills—all. the. time. “Should I mess with an online will or just pony up for an estate attorney?” We want to clear the air on this topic.
Cake’s take on DIY online wills: There’s really no substitute for making your will with a good estate attorney who understands the tax laws in your jurisdiction. It’s also not as expensive as most people think ($500-1,000 on average), and in many cases, your estate will make that money back in tax savings. In some cases, an estate attorney may determine that a living trust should be created to better safeguard your assets against probate court and further reduce taxes. In short, an attorney can structure your estate documents to minimize taxes on your estate (and ultimately, your heirs) in ways that boilerplate online estate documents may not.
However, if you land in a precarious situation before you can find and meet with an attorney (e.g., preparing for an unexpected surgery, booking a last-minute ticket to a risky travel destination, being 110% pregnant) —DIY wills are a good stopgap solution until you can make that happen. There are some great tools out there to help you get it done, too.
:DR = A DIY will is better than no will at all.
Additionally, a DIY will can also better prepare you for a more productive (and hopefully cheaper) session with an estate attorney since you will have already gathered info on your assets and thought about how you want to divide them among loved ones.
Just be aware that an attorney will not be able to “add on” to your DIY will, as they can’t take on the liability of a legal document generated by another entity. Once you have a will from an estate attorney, use your old DIY for making paper cranes or kindling.
Reasons to make or update a will
You’re probably keenly aware you need a will if you’re reading this article, but just as a refresher, here are some of the most common reasons people make or update their will:
- a new baby or grandchild (to pass on inheritance and/or a choose a guardian if something happens to you)
- a death in the family (especially of previously-listed beneficiary or executor)
- a marriage (or divorce)
- a home purchase or sale
- a move to another state
- acquiring a serious chunk of change like an inheritance (or making bank at the casino)
- retirement (a common time to review and update existing documents)
- a change of heart in how you want to apportion your estate (e.g nephew Billy turned out rotten and doesn’t deserve his cut anymore)
Who needs to see an estate attorney for a will?
People who match one or more of these criteria are at risk with boilerplate DIY wills and should aim to meet with an attorney:
- Kids or dependents
- Married or divorced
- Sizeable assets: no rule here, but > $100K in the bank/investments is a rough guide
- Own property/mortgage
- Business owners
- Strained family relationships – high risk of conflict over assets
In these circumstances, find a good estate attorney. It will be well worth the money. But, if you really don’t have the time or resources to connect with an attorney right now, cover your ass(
Who can “get away” with an online will?
People who match most of these criteria are at less risk making their own will (at least until they can see an estate attorney):
- No kids or dependents
- Not married or divorced
- Limited assets: no rule here, but < $100K in the bank/investments is a rough guide
- No property/mortgage
- Agreeable family relationships—low risk of conflict over assets
- People who needed a will yesterday: if you suddenly find yourself at elevated risk of needing a will in the near term (e.g. undergoing surgery, having a baby, seriously ill, taking on a risky line of work, etc) —online
willsoffer real value until you can meet with an attorney.
OK, I want to make a will online! What now?
If you’ve done any searches for online will tools already, you’ve likely come to realize there are dozens of options out there. To save a bit of time, check out our roundup of what we have found to be the best tools on the market (free and paid): The Best Online Will Tools of 2019.
Remember: Will planning is just one piece of the pie Cake
There’s no argument about the benefits of having a will. This critical document can prevent your assets from falling into the wrong hands, reduce the likelihood of family conflict, and cut down on legal expenses for your heirs and time in probate court.
However, there are equally-important documents every responsible adult should have as part of a comprehensive end-of-life plan their loved ones can follow if something happens to them.
A personalized checklist guides you to create or upload all your important documents so you can securely store and share everything your family will need someday. Create your free Cake end-of-life plan today!