If you are looking to create your last will and testament, or will, online, you’ll find dozens of websites that let you prepare a variety of estate planning documents for very little money, and even for free. With so many do-it-yourself online document services out there, you might believe you can create your will online, all on your own, without paying a lawyer to help.
And in some cases, you can create your will online.
But if you do, you need to understand how these services can backfire on you and your family. Online estate planning can be a catastrophe for those who aren’t aware of the risks. And as you’ll see, creating your will online without a lawyer’s guidance can even be worse for your family than if you’d done nothing at all.
Know what’s possible - and what’s not
A great way to start educating yourself is by watching this training video by family financial and legal expert Ali Katz. This free, one-hour training clarifies what you can do yourself online, and when you really need a lawyer’s support. The training also gives you access to an online tool you can use to create an inventory of all your assets, which is critically important to leave to your loved ones, no matter how much or little you have to pass on.
Meanwhile, if you are looking to create your own will online, first ask yourself the following 3 questions. After considering these 3 questions, if you determine you can create your own will online, you should seriously consider having us review it for you once you complete the document to be certain you’ve properly covered everything and everyone you care about.
1. Will your online will keep your family out of court?
When considering creating your own will online, the first question you need to ask yourself is: “Should I become incapacitated or when I die, do I want to keep my family out of court?” If your answer is “Yes, I 100% want to keep my family out of court,” then creating your own will online may not be the best idea.
While a will is a necessary element of most estate plans, it’s typically just one small part of an integrated plan. And a will by itself won’t keep your family out of court. In order for assets covered by your will to be transferred to your beneficiaries, your will must first pass through the court process known as probate.
During probate, the court oversees the administration of your estate and assets, ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes, while ensuring any creditors of your estate are paid, and managing any disputes that arise. Probate is lengthy, expensive, and open to the public, so you’ll want to have more than a will in place if you have any assets that would go through court in the event of your incapacity or death.
To avoid probate and keep your assets out of court, your will needs to be combined with other planning documents and important conversations as well, including a properly drafted and funded trust, up to date and effective beneficiary designations and conversations with family that ensure they won’t end up in conflict due to your lack of preparation.
Beneficiary designations and trust planning can be complex, and if you have assets that would otherwise pass through the court process, it may be difficult to ensure you are making all the right choices for your loved ones and your assets using an online document service. This is why we recommend that you begin your estate planning with a Family Wealth Planning Session, during which we can help you look at your family dynamics, and your assets, and assess what would happen to everything you have and everyone you love, when something happens to you. During this planning session, we can then determine the right plan for you and the people you love to help keep them out of court when something happens to you.
2. Is your online will’s execution legally valid?
If you do not have assets that would go through the court process, and you want to create an online will simply to name someone as your executor in the event of your death, you’ll want to make sure your online will is legally valid.
Each state has specific laws stipulating how a will must be documented and signed to be legally binding. If you fail to execute your will in accordance with these laws, the court can deem your will legally invalid.
If the court deems your will invalid, it’s as if the document never existed. In that case, a judge would name the person it considers is best to handle your estate, and your assets would be distributed according to state intestacy laws, which typically give priority to your closest living blood relatives.
If you want to ensure your online will is legally valid, you can look up your state’s laws governing the valid execution of a will. From there, make certain you sign it properly, with the right number and type of witnesses.
3. Does your online Will properly name an executor?
If you are going to create your own online will, the last question to consider is whether the will properly names an executor, along with back-up executors, and ensures that those you name will be appointed by the court in the event of your death.
An executor, also called a “personal representative,” is the person responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will. Your executor is typically named in your will and appointed by the court to locate and manage your assets, pay any outstanding debts and taxes you owe, and distribute your remaining assets to your beneficiaries.
If you don’t name an executor in your will, or the person you choose is determined to be unfit, the court will appoint an executor for you. As an example of how things can go wrong here, one common situation in which a named executor can be determined to be unfit is if your will does not waive the requirement for the executor to obtain a bond, and your named executor cannot qualify for a bond. This is a frequent mistake made by those who create their own will online.
If you’re unaware of these requirements when creating your online will, your chosen executor could be deemed unfit, leaving the choice up to the court. We can make certain your choice for executor is properly qualified, so you can rest easy knowing someone you know and trust will handle your final affairs and support your loved ones when you no longer can.
The Professional Support You Deserve
As you can see, creating your will online without a lawyer’s help is a huge gamble, and if you get it wrong, it can cost your family a lot more than money. Rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all document service, meet with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to create your will and other estate planning documents.
Our Life & Legacy Planning Process is specifically designed to put in place the right combination of planning solutions to fit with your unique asset profile, family dynamics, budget, as well as your overall goals and desires. Until then, if you need to get your plan started or need us to review your existing documents, contact us today.
Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. Are you ready to protect your loved ones and legacy? Check out my next presentation.