A will is the most common and simplest way to pass on property at death. About half of all Americans do not have a will. Because most people die with some property in their estate — even if it is very little — they should have a will to pass it on at death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Consider Before Making an Online Will
- Pros and Cons of Online Wills
- Situations Where It Might Make Sense to Make an Online Will
- Situations Where an Online Will May Not Be the Best Choice
The only valid reason for not having a will is that you don’t need one because all of your assets will pass upon your death through some other method of transfer, like a trust or joint account with another person who lives longer than you.
If you do not have a will, it is probably not because you think you don’t need one. Rather, it is probably because of one of the following reasons:
- You don’t know how to go about getting one.
- You can’t afford an attorney.
- You don’t know how to make a will on your own.
Fortunately, there is another option available for having a will — making it using an online will maker. Here are some important things to consider before you make a will online.
What to Consider Before Making an Online Will
There’s no question that there are plenty of online will services to choose from. They range in price, quality, and simplicity of use. It’s not hard to find one that will suit your budget and your simple estate planning needs. However, before you dive into making a will online, ask yourself the following questions:
Why do I need a will? Before you spend any time or money researching online wills, you should consider why you think you need a will to begin with. What are you trying to accomplish? It is possible that you don’t even need a will to accomplish what you want to do with your property when you die.
What kind of assets do I own? Before you include your assets in a simple online will, consider which assets you have to pass on. Do you have an estate that has significant value? Is your property complex and complicated because it includes business interests, tax considerations or the interests of children? Do you possess simple assets that can easily be transferred to others?
What do I want to happen to my assets when I die? Consider who you want to take your property when you die. Do you have specific people to whom you want to give specific property? Do you have someone picked out who you would like to take everything else that is left after you make specific gifts to certain people? Do you know if more than one family member or friend wants the same property that you will have to give away when you die?
Do I need to make arrangements for the care of my children? If you have minor children, have you considered who you would like to care for them if you die unexpectedly? Have you discussed this with the person or persons you chose? If they are old enough to understand, have you considered who your children would want to care for them? Are you ready to make these decisions?
What arrangements do you want for your funeral and burial? Have you considered whether you want to donate organs when you die? Do you know what arrangements you would like for your funeral? Have you considered how or where you would like to be buried? Would you prefer to be cremated? What would you like done with your ashes?
What am I willing to pay for a will? Sometimes resolving all the issues you need to resolve in a will requires advice from an attorney. As you know, hiring an attorney can be expensive. Do you know how much it will cost to have an attorney write your will? Is it cheaper to do your will online? Is an online will worth the money you may have to pay for it?
What questions do I have about making a will? Consider the issues you expect to be addressed in your will. Do you know what to look for when researching online wills so that you know which online service may be best for you? Do you need instructions or advice about making a will or do you feel confident that you know what is required?
Do I feel confident about making my own will? If you feel that you know what is required to make a valid will, can you write your own will? Have you researched the laws in your state to know what is required?
How many online options should I consider before choosing one? If there are 15 online will services to choose from, do you need to research all of them or will you know that a service is sufficient for what you need to accomplish when you see it? Have you read any reviews about the various will services that are available?
Is an online will the best option for me? This is the ultimate question you will need to answer before you sign a will. You may only be able to answer this question by sampling some of the available online services. However, before you do that, here are some pros and cons to choosing an online will that may help you answer this question.
Pros and Cons of Online Wills
The truth is, there are as many different wills as there are people who have one because every person’s needs and wishes upon death are different. However, the reasons to have (or not have) an online will are pretty much the same for everyone. Understanding both sides will help you know whether an online will is right for you.
Here are some of the most important advantages to using an online will that you should consider:
A primary advantage of using an online will is how simple it is to use. Online wills are usually very short and cover the most basic issues that typically need to be addressed in a will, such as:
- Naming an executor to administer your estate
- Satisfying your debts
- Identifying property you wish to transfer at death
- Identifying beneficiaries to receive your property
- Identifying guardians for your children
- Stating specific wishes for your funeral and burial
Online wills are usually very easy to complete. The will forms are already written except for some fill-in-the-blank areas for you to indicate your personal information. They usually include very clear instructions for filling out the forms, with definitions and explanations for most legal terms you may not be familiar with. They clearly designate where you and your witnesses need to sign.
Another important consideration is that most online will services design your will to satisfy the laws that apply in your state. Assuming they are accurate, you should not have to worry whether your will contains everything that’s required to make it legal.
Depending on the service you choose, it may take anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour to fill out your online will. Because you complete your will online, including the signatures of your witnesses, you can have a valid will in just one session on your computer.
The cost of using an online will service varies with each service. Some are free, while others could cost as much as $200 or more, depending on the extent of the services you apply for. However, the average simple will costs under $40, or $50 at most.
Here are some of the most important disadvantages to using an online will that you should consider:
Although simplicity is one of the important advantages of online wills, it is also a reason why you might not want to choose this option.
Online wills are inexpensive and easy to complete for a reason — they don’t include very much. If you suspect that your estate will have any issues beyond who should receive your property, then you probably need more than what an online will has to offer.
Because online wills are so simple in terms of what they cover and because the average person usually has at least one complicated issue or anticipated problem that needs to be addressed by a lawyer, online wills are often insufficient to serve the best interest of the person who dies and their beneficiaries.
Many online will services provide an opportunity to ask questions to a representative or perhaps receive some general advice from an attorney online. However, no online service provides the type of in-depth analysis and assessment of one’s estate that legal representation from an attorney will provide.
Invalidity or inaccuracy
Although most services claim to design each will to satisfy the applicable laws of each state, there is no guarantee that the online will that you complete is legally valid. It’s always possible that the laws in your state have changed since the last time the website you use was updated.
Additionally, the services often provide simplicity at the expense of accuracy. The legal requirements for executing a valid will can be incredibly detailed and strictly enforced. The simplicity that an online will offers does not always accommodate the detailed precision that the law often requires.
It’s quite common for someone who drafts a will to want to amend or revoke their will later. However, many of the online services do not service your will with revisions or amendments once you purchase your original will.
If you decide you need to change your will or revoke your existing will and create a new one, you may have to pay to go through the same process all over again or you may have to pay a greater fee for your original will to include these services later.
Situations Where It Might Make Sense to Make an Online Will
Here are a few reasons why it might be a good decision to make an online will:
You have a simple estate. If you just want to pass a few assets to specific people and give everything else to one person, then a simple will can accomplish this for you.
You have assets that will remain in your estate when you die that you do not want your legal heirs to inherit. If you own property that is not in a trust, joint account, or part of an account that automatically gets paid to a beneficiary when you die, like a life insurance policy or retirement fund, and you do not want your immediate heirs to inherit that property, then you need to have a will. If you don’t, the state will give all your property to your legal heirs.
You suspect your family will fight over your property. Having a will in which you designate who you want to have your property when you die can prevent family bickering or squabbling over who gets what.
You don’t have a lot of time or money to spare. Seeking the advice and assistance of an attorney to draft a will takes time and money. There’s no way around that — except for using an online will. If time and money are your concerns, it might make sense to make an online will.
Situations Where an Online Will May Not Be the Best Choice
Likewise, here are some reasons why an online will may not be the best option for you:
You have a complex estate. If you have a lot of property, real estate in different states, children, considerable debt, or expect to have to pay estate and gift taxes when you die, then you should seek the advice of an attorney.
You plan to divide all your property among your heirs. If you want your immediate heirs to divide your property equally, then you do not need a will. The law of every state will take care of that for you. However, the laws of each state can differ slightly, so you should be sure which heirs will inherit your property before you decide not to have a will.
You suspect someone will contest your will. If you anticipate that someone is going to contest the validity of your will because they think you are not competent or because they will be displeased with what they receive (or don’t receive) in your will, then you should have an attorney advise you on how to overcome such a contest.
You want or need professional advice from an attorney. If you are unsure about any aspect of your will or have any questions or concerns, you should always speak with an attorney before executing your will.
Make an Informed Decision About Using an Online Will
Using an online will has advantages and disadvantages. You should know what they are before you decide to use an online will.
Once you know what they are, you should consider whether an online will is right for you. If you decide that it is, take some time to research which online service provides you the greatest advantage for what you want to accomplish with your will.