Best online will makers for 2020
Having a will in place protects your loved ones after you die and ensures that your assets are distributed in the way you intended. Formally called a last will and testament, it’s a legal document that contains specific directions about who should receive your personal property in the event of your death. It also identifies an executor — the person responsible for carrying out your wishes, including arranging for the care of your minor children and pets, and managing the distribution of your assets.
Unless you have a large or complex estate, in which case you’d be better off working with an estate planning attorney, an online will maker is the best choice for most people. While a conventional lawyer might charge between $1,000 and $1,500 to help you draft a will, there are online services that will help you create one for a fraction of the price.
Whether you use a lawyer or an online service, creating a will takes some work. First, you need to compile a detailed list of your assets and identify a beneficiary for each. Next, you need to write out the will — which is when a law firm or online service comes in handy. Finally, to execute the will and ensure it’s legally binding, you need to recruit at least two witnesses, who cannot be beneficiaries or executors, and, in some cases, a notary, to sign the document.
A good will maker is reasonably priced, has all the forms you’ll need — such as power of attorney, a living will and health care directives — and provides informed legal guidance, including accommodations for any special rules for your home state. Some services will try to sell you on unlimited revisions or online storage, but once a will is signed and executed, you won’t be able to make major changes to it, so those features are irrelevant for most people.
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Online will makers, compared
|Best for first-timers||Best for advanced users (or frequent updaters)||Best service for creating a super basic will||Best for young families|
|Rocket Lawyer||Nolo Quicken WillMaker & Trust||DoYourOwnWill||Fabric|
|User Interface||Guided||Guided||On your own||Guided|
|Platform||Web||Software (Mac and Windows)||Web||App|
|Live attorney access||Yes||No||No||No|
It typically costs between $40 and $100 to make online wills, whether you choose a subscription service or one with a flat fee. There are, however, a few free services that provide some basic templates. In addition to an exhaustive library of forms for estate planning, some of the higher-end services offer legal assistance — which can be nice to have if you have questions or require state-specific advice.
We evaluated a number of online will makers across a number of categories, prioritizing price, attorney access, the quality of the guidance and user interface and the inclusion and accessibility of all relevant forms. We’ve listed our top picks below as well as our assessments of a handful of other well-known services. We update this list periodically.
When it comes to planning your estate, Rocket Lawyer does it all. And the company’s free seven-day trial may be both long and full-featured enough to give you what you need; you can create up to three documents and have a brief consultation with a lawyer by phone or email. Otherwise, the $40-a-month subscription provides access to attorneys and everything you’ll need to draft a state-specific last will and testament, power of attorney and living will.
Rocket Lawyer has a large network of attorneys that covers all 50 states. You can get connected with a lawyer via live chat for quick, simple questions or schedule a 30-minute phone consultation for any specific questions. And the included document review protects you from making major mistakes that could render your will invalid.
Creating wills on Rocket Lawyer is simple and painless. It took me around 15 minutes to complete the process. It’s fairly easy to find additional information on any given subject as you go through the interview-based interface, and there’s a notes field so you can keep track of questions to ask your appointed lawyer afterwards. Bottom line: This is the best online will maker for most people.
This solid software package from Nolo, available for Windows and Mac, provides all of the estate planning forms and documentation you’ll need for $100. The software, which takes into account state-specific laws and processes, is regularly updated by a team of legal experts. And once you buy it, you own it, so you can create new forms or documents whenever you please.
The main drawback is that Nolo doesn’t include access to attorneys — so there’s no one to review your documents or answer questions. As such, Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker and Trust is best suited to those who come to the table with an understanding of how to draft wills and have a game plan for their estate. The upside is that you can review your will periodically and make changes without having to repurchase the software. (Still, each time you make a significant change, you will need to execute the will again — usually, with two witnesses and possibly a notary, too — and destroy any past copies.)
Writing up a will took about 25 minutes — a bit longer than the others we tried. But Nolo Quicken WillMaker and Trust was by far the most thorough of all of the will makers we tried, with an extensive library of templates, tools and resources. The software looks a little dated, but it’s easy enough to navigate.
First things first: DoYourOwnWill is free to use, with no hidden fees or gotchas. It provides a complete set of generic estate planning documents, though you won’t find state-specific documents, much guidance or integrated access to attorneys.
But if you have a relatively simple estate and you’re familiar with the process — and you feel ambitious enough to do some research — DoYourOwnWill is a solid option. I drafted a basic will in about five minutes. The website includes a helpful FAQ and blog with clear answers to basic questions and some guidance for more complex situations such as revoking power of attorney.
Designed for young families, Fabric’s app-based service is simple, free and user-friendly — making it the best choice for parents new to writing a will. The service bills itself as an easy way to tackle some hard questions. And given its convenient, straightforward approach, the process of planning for end of life feels less like a morose conversation and more like accounting for a part of everyday life. Fabric really excels with facilitating a conversation most of us aren’t accustomed to having regularly.
Fabric doesn’t provide access to attorneys or state-specific documents. Rather, it focuses on helping you draw up clear directions for the care of your house and children in the event of your incapacitation. You can also apply for life insurance within the Fabric platform.
We found the interface intuitive, and it took only 10 minutes to complete a will. During the process, Fabric gives you the option to email your executor and witnesses a notification, though you can also opt to print out your will and send a hardcopy.
Other online will makers
LegalZoom’s offering is fairly similar to Rocket Lawyer — but it’s more expensive. For $89, LegalZoom will help you create a last will and testament, and you can add another $10 for two weeks of access to professional legal advice. Or you can shell out $179 for the estate plan bundle, which includes everything you need to create a living will and assign financial power of attorney in consultation with an independent attorney. You can also buy access to individual forms — including a pet protection agreement and a living will — for $39 each.
We found LawDepot’s stripped-down offering similar to the type of resources you’ll find at DoYourOwnWill. But LawDepot costs $33 per month (after a free seven-day trial) or $96 for a full year. What’s more, the site doesn’t clearly disclose that price until you’ve nearly completed your document.
Trust & Will’s state-specific online will maker starts at $89, with additional documents costing $39 each — a pricing model similar to LegalZoom’s. But its “expert support” doesn’t include live attorney consultations; instead, you get access to written estate planning information and technical support. That noted, its guidance is good — comparable from what you’d get from Rocket Laywer — but it’s considerably more expensive.
Frequently asked questions
Why do I need a last will and testament?
If you own anything that you would want to pass on to someone after you die, you should have a will. A properly executed will minimizes the time a court needs to process your estate and ensures your beneficiaries receive your assets quickly and efficiently. If you don’t intend to pass your assets on to family or friends, you can designate a charity or nonprofit as a beneficiary.
I wrote my will. Now what?
Once you’ve finished the paperwork, don’t forget the last, essential step: executing the will. Each state has its own laws regarding proper execution — including how many witnesses are required to sign it and whether you can use a “self-proving affidavit.” (A self-proving affidavit is an additional document, signed by a notary, that certifies a will has been executed properly and helps ensure that your witnesses won’t need to testify in court, though that could still happen if someone challenges the will.) In most states, you need two witnesses to sign your will and witness you signing it, though some states have different rules.
Once your will is properly signed and executed, store it in a safe place like a fireproof safe or safety deposit box. Wherever you decide to store it, make sure your executor and beneficiaries are aware of the location.
What is probate?
Probate is a legal process that validates your will and settles your estate. A court reviews your estate documentation to ensure that the right people receive the right things; the clearer and more legally precise your will, the smoother that process will be. If a will is unclear, contested or found to be improperly executed, any fees associated with the lengthened court process are deducted from the estate. A high probate fee could take roughly 10% of an average estate.
What are other ways to give money to my family when I die?
Most bank accounts, brokerage accounts and other financial assets allow you to appoint beneficiaries, and it’s a good idea to assign at least one for each account to prevent the need for probate.
How detailed should the list of my property be?
Generally speaking, you don’t need to itemize every single asset you own. And if you do catalog every item individually, you leave room for error and need to update it every time you get rid of something or acquire something new. It’s easiest and most efficient to leave the bulk of your estate to one person or a small group of people (e.g. your surviving spouse or children).
When should I get an attorney involved with my estate planning?
If you have a large or complex estate, it’s worthwhile paying $1,000 to $2,000 to make sure it’s settled properly. Working with an attorney is also a good idea for people with more complicated family situations — stepchildren, blended families and disinheritances, for a few examples.
What is a living trust — and should I use one instead?
A living trust creates a legal entity, a trust, that becomes the holder of your assets. It has a trustee — you, until you die, and then someone else you appoint — who is responsible for managing the assets. Since the trust is an entity distinct and separate from your estate, its assets are not subject to probate.
And that’s the main benefit — avoiding probate and its associated costs. But trusts are also more difficult to challenge because their assets are private, in contrast to wills, which are public. Establishing a trust may also be considerably more complicated and expensive, but it’s well within reason for many people.
What are all of the recommended documents for planning my estate?
When planning your estate, the main documents to consider are:
- A last will and testament.
- A living trust.
- A power of attorney, which grants someone else authorization to act on your behalf in health-related, financial or other private affairs should you die or become incapacitated.
- A living will, also called a health care directive, which states your wishes for end-of-life care should you not be able to make those decisions on your own.
Should I keep my subscription after I’m done creating my will?
Generally speaking, you won’t need to continue a subscription after you’ve completed your will. Though many services attempt to characterize it as an ongoing process — it’s not. Any time you make a significant revision, you need to redo the entire thing and destroy any old copies. In some cases you can simply attach a “codicil” to make a minor update. For any major update, you have to draft a new document.
Aside from a periodic review — every few years should be sufficient — you shouldn’t need to revisit your will often. If you opt for a subscription, keep it only for as long as you need to draft and execute the documents.
Do online wills have to be notarized?
Usually, no. Laws differ state by state, but in most cases you only need to have two witnesses (who are not beneficiaries) sign it and watch you sign it.