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Are Do-it-Yourself Online Wills Right for You?

05/15/24

For many people, a will is one of the most important financial documents they could have. However, rising attorney fees are driving an increasing number of people to do-it-yourself online will preparers. An online will preparer could be an inexpensive and easy solution for a simple will with no complications, but it may not be suitable for everyone.

Differences Between an Online Will and a Traditional Will

At its core, an online will is really no different than a traditional will. Both use a standard template containing the same standard clauses to start the process, with the only difference being that the user fills in the blanks on an online will while an attorney does the same thing for a traditional will. They require the same basic information, along with the names of the people receiving the property. Both types require a signature witnessed by two people. With a traditional will, an attorney guides the process, and with an online will, a pop-up guide is provided.

The biggest difference between the two is in the cost of preparing them. A simple will drafted by an attorney can cost between $500 and $1,000, depending on your time with the attorney. An online will can be prepared, printed, and executed for as little as $40, with an average cost closer to $60. The price for both increases when additional estate planning tools are required, such as a power of attorney, a medical directive, or a living trust. The cost difference reflects another distinction, which is the legal advice available in drafting the will. An attorney-prepared will comes with expert advice tailored to your situation, while most online wills offer no legal advice.

Advantages of an Online Will

Aside from being inexpensive, online wills are quick and easy. After setting up your online account and profile, you follow a sequence of questions, much like in an online tax preparation program. Your answers populate the template, and you are guided through the different clauses in the will. Depending on how prepared you are with the answers and any documentation it can take as little as 30 minutes.

Disadvantages of an Online Will

The biggest disadvantage of an online will is that you may not have any redress if you make a mistake. Most DIY will sites state clearly that they are not a law firm and are not permitted to review your answers for legal sufficiency. At best, you may only receive general information on common legal issues or be shown examples of how other people have answered the questions. One of the more popular online will sites, LegalZoom.com, cautions that 80% of its users make mistakes when completing their will.

Some quasi-legal sites now offer an online will bundled with legal assistance, allowing for interaction with an attorney via email. This may provide greater certainty that the information you receive more accurately applies to your situation. Still, it would be essential to check whether the online preparer stands behind its advice.

When an Online Will May or May Not Be Right for You

Generally, online sites work best for individuals with the most straightforward situations. If you have an insignificant amount of assets, know exactly who is to receive them, and there are no potential conflicts, a simple online will may be a good solution. Beyond that, an online will may not suffice.

For any complications, such as owning significant assets, multiple marriages, owning a business, having foreign or dual citizenship, or having minor children, you most likely need the advice of an estate attorney. Special planning considerations should be given to a bequeath outside of your family, the possibility of estate taxes on significant assets, care for dependent or special needs children, care for dependent parents, or any number of situations.

If a situation can’t be addressed through the questions asked on an online website, you probably need the guidance of an attorney.

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This article contains general information only. Sunflower Bank is not, by means of this article, rendering accounting, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This article is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, before making any decisions related to these matters, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.