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By Gabriella Cruz-Martínez
Updated: November 24, 2020 12:45 PM ET | Originally published: November 12, 2020
Money

For many, unfamiliarity with wills, trusts, and advance directives has kept them from preparing for the future. But estate planning tools and advice have become more accessible than ever through online will-making services.

To help readers determine whether opting for one of these services makes sense, Money consulted attorneys specializing in elder law, probate, and estate planning, as well as the American Bar Association.

When creating a will or estate plan with an online legal services provider, we suggest focusing on four major factors: cost, validity, customer experience, and company reputation.

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Cost

The cost of preparing a will or trust is determined by your estate’s complexity, the type of services you seek, and lawyer’s fees. Most lawyers charge hourly rates that range from $100 to thousands of dollars, depending on their experience, expertise, and how they price their services.

Online will-making services, on the other hand, have different pricing structures. Some charge fixed fees for particular services, while others require a membership or subscription fee to allow changes and updates to a will, trust, or estate plan.

Updating your last will and testament is important, especially if you’ve had major life changes, such as having a child, getting married or divorced, or purchasing a property or business. And while online services make these updates easier, opting for a subscription legal service can add up over time and end up being as expensive as consulting an attorney.

“You should not be paying a yearly fee unless you are in a maintenance program where your plan is being reviewed at least yearly by an attorney who specializes in estate planning,” says senior attorney Tara Frame, a specialist in Estate Planning, Elder Law and Probate Law at Frame & Frame.

Validity

Online will makers offer standard estate planning documents at a low cost. However, preparing these documents can be complex (depending on your personal circumstances), and their legitimacy is determined by the laws that govern your state.

Also, most online estate planning companies explicitly state that they are not lawyers and are not providing legal advice, warns Jenna Glassock Esq., founding attorney of Glassock Law APC.

“Arguably, the biggest problem with the online offerings is that you may never know if the documents work the way you intended,” says Glassock. “At that point, a poorly drafted estate plan is more likely to lead to family in-fighting and costly litigation than an estate with no plan in place at all.”

Still, online wills can be just as legitimate as attorney-drafted ones, as long as they are executed correctly.

For an online will to be considered legal, it needs to meet these minimum requirements:

  • The testator, meaning the person writing their will or having it written for them, must be of sound mind when the will is written.
  • The will must have the testator’s signature and date of issue, and it must be notarized.
  • Depending on your state, the will must be signed by one or more witnesses.

Customer Experience

While an online will-making service cannot replace an attorney’s detailed advice, we suggest that interested parties look for companies that offer customer support online, over the phone, or through an app.

It’s also a good sign when a company has an online learning center or literature to help customers understand estate planning basics. Of course, you’ll need to check state laws yourself to make sure you’re entering a legally binding contract.

Company Reputation

Finally, make a point to assess a company’s reputation by looking into online reviews, recent news coverage, and any legal actions taken against the company. You may also want to consider avoiding companies with class-action lawsuits related to deceptive practices against consumers in recent years.

The Best Online Will Maker Services

Trust & Will

Pricing Estate Planning Additional Services
$39 to $399 Trusts, Wills, Guardianship Legal Advice, Chat

Trust & Will is an online service that prepares trust, will, and guardianship documents at reasonable rates. For each legal document prepared, you’ll receive specific forms built by a legal team consistent with the laws of your state.

For couples that want to skip the hassle of completing their wills separately, Trust & Will offers a simple will-based estate plan for $89 with the option of adding a spouse for an additional $70. Should you decide to include additional services such as guardianship and trust documents, you’ll both receive a discounted price. Individually, guardianship documents start at $39, and trusts cost a fixed $399 or $499 if you want to add a spouse.

The wills plan includes up to one year of unlimited updates, a 30-day money-back guarantee, and complimentary shipping. Will packages provide customized, state-specific will documents and HIPAA authorizations and supporting documents for living wills.

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Once you complete your will or trust documents, they will be reviewed by company experts. However, guardianship plans are not reviewed by an internal legal team and should be reviewed by your attorney.

Once finalized, a copy of each document will be delivered to you. The documents will remain stored online for additional access or updating. For an additional yearly fee of $12, customers can get unlimited updates and yearly reviews by Trust & Will’s legal team.

Of note, Trust & Will discloses that it solely provides legal forms and information but is not a law firm and cannot substitute a lawyer’s advice regarding complex estate planning.

Tomorrow Last Will & Testament

Pricing Estate Planning Additional Services
Free, or $39.99 for Premium Access Wills, Trusts, Guardianship, Medical Power of Attorney Legal Advice. Available via mobile app for iPhone and Android users.

Tomorrow Last Will & Testament offers estate planning services exclusively through an app for iOS and Android devices. This gives you access to otherwise expensive legal documents for free. Tomorrow also allows you to purchase term life insurance within the app or integrate your existing insurance for easy access.

However, what propels Tomorrow into the future of estate planning is its innovative use of technology. While the app is free and the company claims that 95% of users never pay a penny, the 5% who subscribe annually for $39.99 gain access to additional features including the ability to create a joint account with children, one-minute unlimited video memories you can record and share with beneficiaries, a living trust, and a pour-over will. Tomorrow Plus also allows spouses and partners to upgrade their accounts to premium free-of-charge.

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Non-subscribed members, on the other hand, only have access to three video memories for each member of the family named in the will.

It’s worth noting that users can only access their wills on mobile devices through the app, and some customer reviews mentioned experiencing glitches or bugs as well as ads from insurance vendors.

LegalZoom

Pricing Estate Planning Additional Services
$35 to $279 Wills, Trust, Guardianship, Medical Power of Attorney Legal Advice. Available via mobile app for iPhone and Android users.

LegalZoom has independent attorneys in all 50 states that know your state’s laws and can ensure your forms are in legal compliance. You can also receive customized documents by answering a brief questionnaire or using the company’s attorney-supported service to determine which paperwork is best for your needs.

LegalZoom claims to have no hidden fees and implements flat-fee pricing on both self-guided and attorney-supported services. Pricing for last wills and testaments start at $89, financial powers of attorney at $35, living wills (advanced healthcare directive) at $39, and living trusts at $279. If you want to save on multiple documents, you can obtain a living will, financial power of attorney, and a will or living trust for $179.

Beyond estate planning services, LegalZoom also offers legal advice to help you start your business – such as naming your business, obtaining licenses and permits, and establishing your business structure as a C Corp, S Corp, nonprofit, or limited liability company (LLC).

If you’re a creative or entrepreneur, LegalZoom also provides legal advice for musicians and writers. Its legal business form options have a variety of documents that provide intellectual protection through trademark and copyright registration and design patents.

LegalZoom has six or 12-month subscription service options that grant you an unlimited number of 30-minute attorney consultations on new legal matters starting at $31.25 per month for the Business Advisory Plan or $9.99 per month for estate planning through its Legal Advantage Plus plan.

Nolo’s Quicken Willmaker & Trust 2021

Pricing Estate Planning Additional Services
One-time purchase $99.99 Wills, Trusts, Guardianship, Medical Power of Attorney Legal Advice. Downloadable software for Windows and Mac.

If you’re looking for an all-in-one estate planning solution, Nolo’s Quicken Willmaker & Trust 2021 offers customized estate plans, including wills, living trusts, health care directives, financial powers of attorney, and other essential documents, all through downloadable software available for Windows and Mac.

For a one-time purchase of $99.99, you will receive over 35 estate planning documents and 2 eBooks, including one designed for special needs trusts to protect your child’s financial future.

To get started, you’ll be asked to fill out a short questionnaire at your own pace. You’ll then receive user-friendly instructions and a legal manual that addresses common questions you may have. As part of the planning process, a team of lawyer-editors continuously updates each document to ensure they reflect your state’s laws. However, up-to-date estate planning documents are not valid in Louisiana, U.S. territories, or Canada.

LawDepot

Pricing Estate Planning Additional Services
Free trial, $7.99 or $33 (per month). Pay-per-document option. Wills, Trust, Guardianship, Medical Power of Attorney, Business Documents Money-back guarantee, as well as $10,000 for legal damages.

LawDepot is an easy-to-use online platform that allows you to review and file customized legal documents for your business or personal estate planning needs without a lawyer. The company offers a wide variety of do-it-yourself legal forms under several pricing options, including yearly or monthly subscriptions, a pay-per-document option, and a seven-day free trial.

Subscription services begin at $7.99 per month ($95.88 per year). If you start with a free trial and let the plan rollover, you’ll end up paying $33 per month. You can also purchase single documents, which can cost between $7.50 and $68, depending on the document type and digital access time to fill out and print. Subscriptions can be canceled at any time, with no penalty.

While LawDepot leans more toward clients that prefer do-it-yourself options, it offers a helpful blog and educational literature for each type of document curated by a team of lawyers. They also have a client support hotline (available weekdays from 8 am to 7 pm ET) and offer assistance over email and live chat.

One feature that sets LawDepot apart from competitors is that if a customer isn’t satisfied with their document, they can be eligible for a 50-day money-back guarantee. The company also offers $10,000 to any customers that suffer legal damages from mistakes due to company errors on documents.

Rocket Lawyer

Pricing Estate Planning Additional Services
Free, pay-per-document option. Premium members pay $39.99 or more, depending on the plan. Wills, Trust, Guardianship, Medical Power of Attorney, Business Documents Legal Advice. Available via mobile app for iPhone users.

Rocket Lawyer offers online legal services for business, personal, and estate planning and attorney consultations. It also has a mobile app where you can sign contracts electronically and store your documents securely for a paperless experience.

Rocket Lawyer offers two pricing tiers, including a non-member pay-per-document or consultation option and a premium subscription. Premium members pay a $39.99 monthly fee and save on all essential legal services, including creating legal documents, receiving attorney services, and getting their legal questions answered free-of-charge via online chat or email. Premium members also gain access to on-call attorneys in the appropriate legal field for a free 30-minute consultation and can get up to 40% off should they hire a Rocket Lawyer on-call attorney.

On the other hand, non-members have to pay for each consultation, which can add up in the long-run. For instance, 30-minute consultations for every new legal matter start at a flat rate of $59.99. Meanwhile, each question you email a lawyer will cost $49.99.

The software is easy-to-use and uses a self-guided questionnaire to direct you to the documents you need, depending on your case. It must be noted that should you register for their subscription service, subscriptions are automatically renewed, and payments are automatically deducted.

When You Need a Will

Making a will isn’t exclusive to the elderly. While less than 25% of people surveyed by Caring.com said they have a will, 60% of those that don’t have one say they think having a will is important. Remarkably, one in every three respondents across all age groups said they believe adults should have a will before the age of 35.

“If you own any property, money, or other assets, you want to know that it will go to who you choose,” said Frame. “If you have children, you must choose someone who you trust to manage their money until a certain age, and you must name guardians to care for your children so that the families are not fighting for custody of them.”

In a will, you can name a medical power of attorney and give someone the authority to make medical decisions about your health should you become incapacitated. You can also write a financial power of attorney, which will allow someone to manage your financial affairs if you can’t speak for yourself due to illness.

“Even if you do not own anything, you should have a financial and medical power of attorney if you are incapacitated and cannot manage your affairs and make medical decisions. Sometimes powers of attorney are more important than a will,” added Frame.

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When You Don’t Need a Will

In some cases, it may make sense to forgo a will if you don’t have any assets or a complex estate situation. Under those circumstances, another legal document, such as a living trust, can be used to manage your assets during your lifetime and beyond.

Those who (1) do not have kids or loved ones who depend on them, and (2) want their assets to pass exactly how the state rules dictate may not need a will. State rules are unique, but the usual order of priority is that assets first go to a spouse, then to parents, then to siblings.

“In addition, many people need more than just a will. This classification is more nuanced and depends on the state’s laws and the difficulty of the state’s probate process,” says Glassock. “However, this group often includes people with minor children, people who own real estate, and those with more than approximately $75,000 to $150,000 in non-retirement and non-life insurance assets.”

Take someone living in California who owns their home (even if there is a mortgage in place). If that person passes away with just a will, her estate would have to go through the probate process. If there is no family infighting or other complications, taking that estate through probate in California would take at least 1-2 years and cost tens of thousands of dollars. That person would be better served by getting a revocable living trust in addition to a will.

FAQs About Last Wills

What is a last will and testament?

A will or testament is a legal document that allows you to specify what you want to happen to your assets in the event of your death. If you don’t have a will in place when you die, your assets will be distributed according to state inheritance laws, known as intestate succession. Having a will can help avoid that scenario and ensure that your assets are passed on according to your wishes.

Additionally, a last will and testament enables you to appoint someone to be the executor or administrator who will pay your final bills and see that your wishes are carried out. If you have underage children, you can also appoint a guardian.

Some states allow wills to be written by hand — called “holographic wills” — but most are drafted electronically by attorneys. To keep a holographic will from being contested after the testator’s death, final versions must be witnessed and notarized.

Few states allow a nuncupative or oral will. To be valid, the testator must know they are dying and have at least three witnesses over the age of 14. Written wills always supersede nuncupative wills and are often reserved for military members in the U.S.

What is probate?

Your last will and testament must be filed with a probate court upon your death, which will authenticate the document to ensure that your last wishes are honored, and your assets are distributed accordingly. While that is underway, all of your assets, debts, and claims on your estate will be temporarily frozen until your will is deemed valid. The American Bar Association says the probate process for an average estate can last between 6 to 9 months.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the probate cost depends on state law and the size of your estate. It can generally run up to $1,500, but if your will is invalid or contested, it could be higher.

If you don’t have a will or your executor can’t or won’t serve, your beneficiaries can apply for a letter of administration during the probate process, which would give them the same rights as an executor to distribute your estate.

What is a trust?

When planning your estate, there are alternatives to a will. A trust is another way to transfer your estate, enabling a third party — a trustee — to execute your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries upon your death.

Unlike wills, trusts offer several exclusive planning benefits, such as avoiding the probate process entirely. Once the trust is established, there are no court or attorney fees, which keeps your beneficiaries from paying estate taxes and court fees. Additionally, your property and assets are protected from creditors and can be passed directly to your named beneficiaries in the event of your death.

Generally, trusts tend to be more expensive to create and maintain than wills and are used in more complex estate circumstances.

Are DIY wills worth it?

The cost of making an online will can spare you a few hundred dollars, with some companies offering free templates to complete a will on your own. However, there are offline alternatives for a DIY approach. If you browse the aisles of Office Max, Staples, and Office Depot, you might find ready-made “legal” forms and DIY kits for estate planning starting at $5.

Keep in mind, however, that cheap doesn’t always mean better quality. “Online and DIY forms are not customized and generally don’t consider special situations, such as dealing with children with substance abuse issues, who are irresponsible with money, or who have special needs and rely on government benefits for services, food, shelter, and medical care,” said Frame. “These issues must be dealt with by using carefully crafted language in a will or a trust so that the children will be adequately protected.”

As some attorneys from the American Bar Association have expressed, online and DIY will-making services may also give clients a false sense of security and create the risk of legal problems and disputes down the road. It’s always recommended that you have an attorney look over your legal documents to ensure their validity and authenticity.

I want to prepare a will. Where do I start?

Glassock advises that asking your friends and relatives about their experience navigating this process can be a good starting point.

“Ask friends or family if they know a good estate planner in your area. Most estate planning attorneys offer a free or low-cost consultation where they can walk you through the laws of your state and what would happen to your estate without proper planning. They can also give you their expert opinion on what type of estate planning you need and give you a sense of what it will cost and what the process will look like,” suggests Glassock.

What information will I need to provide?

When preparing your last will, you’ll be required to share some information about your debts, personal assets, and designated people or charities you choose as beneficiaries. Since a will ensures that your assets are distributed upon your death, you’ll need to bring paperwork to identify your assets and beneficiaries easily.

Common assets that people leave to beneficiaries include:

  • Deeds to property or real estate
  • Ownership of a business
  • Vehicle titles
  • Checking or savings account statements
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Jewelry and art

In addition to providing a detailed description of assets, you must provide a list of your current debts.

Finally, you must choose your heirs. You will need to provide information regarding your inheritors, such as their full names, complete address and phone numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth, and birth certificates. If your children are minors or have someone in your family with special needs, you can also appoint a guardian.

Can I write my own will and have it notarized?

Some states allow you to create your own legally valid will, sometimes called a holographic will, says Glassock. Find out your state’s requirements for creating one before you begin.

Some states also have a form of financial and/or healthcare power of attorney called an “advance directive” that you can fill out and sign and later have witnessed or notarized. This would allow you to have some basic incapacity preferences in place at a low cost.

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Money’s Top Picks for Online Will Makers

  • Trust & Will
  • Tomorrow Will & Testament
  • LegalZoom
  • Nolo’s Quicken Willmaker & Trust 2021
  • LawDepot
  • Rocket Lawyer

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Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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