The COVID-19 pandemic reminded tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of people worldwide that life can be cut short at any notice. Unprepared individuals that don’t have their affairs in order risk leaving their loved ones with family infighting that in some cases may never get resolved.
Fortunately, the advancement of technology and broader acceptance of online documents as legally binding contracts means anyone can take advantage of Online Will Makers to set their affairs in order from the comfort of their own home for a very low cost.
ONLINE WILL 101: WHAT IS IT?
Simply put, an online will is no different from a traditional will in the sense that it legally spells out the division of assets upon someone’s death. Traditional wills are simple to set up and will cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or more depending on someone’s individual circumstances. By comparison, online wills can cost $50 or less and in some cases, they are offered for free.
Since most wills follow a predetermined process or form, an online will maker can fully automate the process and create an identical-looking document.
An online will by default is not a legal document but this is by design. From a legal perspective, one does not need an attorney to create a legally binding will in the first place. For an online will to become as legal as a regular will, it must be notarized and confirmed by one or more witnesses, although exact specifications vary by state.
Anyone and everyone should have a will of some sort, regardless of financial situation and age. Online wills are an ideal solution for the majority of people with straightforward assets, such as stock investments, a house, collectibles, etc.
People with complex assets such as investments in private businesses, rental properties, or international investments may want to seek out the advice of experts. Similarly, high-net worth individuals may want to consult with accountants and tax lawyers to create strategies that will mitigate the tax burden.
STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO CREATING AN ONLINE WILL
Creating an online will is a straightforward process that is easy to complete. In fact, the process leading up to the online will creation is much more complex because of the very difficult decisions involved.
Here is a five-step guide on how to approach the process of creating an online will.
STEP 1: CONFIRM STATE LAWS
Before creating an online will, it is important to confirm what is required for the online document to be considered legally binding. A completed online will is useless by itself unless it is notarized, signed, and confirmed by one or more witnesses.
Some states mandate a witness must be a blood relative while others dictate a witness must be physically present to observe the original signing.
Minor children might require special considerations that also vary state by state.
STEP 2: RESEARCH THE DIFFERENT ONLINE WILL PROVIDERS
The competitive environment in the online will space has intensified over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated online adoption and online will providers are scrambling to remain competitive with each other in terms of pricing, ease of use, and other factors.
Be sure to look for an online will maker that makes it easy to make changes in the future based on changing financial situations or personal relationships with family members.
STEP 3: IDENTIFY ALL OF YOUR ASSETS
Perhaps the most important part of creating an online will is to have a list of your assets. More often than not, individuals are prone to forgetting an asset, such as artwork or jewelry. After all, it is easy to forget about jewelry and other valuables that have been in storage for years, if not decades.
While technically not an asset, pets can be just as valuable to their owner, and ensuring they have a loving home is just as important as anything that has monetary value.
STEP 4: THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT WHO RECEIVES WHAT
For many people, deciding who receives what asset is the easiest part of the online will making process. For others, it can be painstakingly difficult and could require many months to think over.
STEP 5: DECIDE WHO IS THE EXECUTOR
All wills must have an executor named. The executor is the person responsible for distributing assets, paying any debts, and other important tasks.
STEP 6: DECLARE A RESIDUARY BENEFICIARY
Once the executor completes their tasks, a residuary beneficiary takes over duties. This individual will gain control of any cash or assets left over all the bills, debts, taxes and other liabilities are taken care of.
STEP 7: FINAL WISHES
One of the overlooked aspects of the will making process is the decision on what will happen to the deceased body. It would be important to note in an online will your funeral preference or if you want to be cremated.
STEP 8: CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK BEFORE COMPLETED
An online will is perhaps the most important document that you will ever create. It contains information on how your life’s legacy will be distributed to your loved ones. It should be checked and double-checked for accuracy’s sake.
Errors would be difficult if not impossible to fix once the assets are being distributed.
It is also worth repeating again that an online will by itself is just a piece of paper. There is a brief legal process that needs to be completed before legal authorities would accept it as a valid will.
TOP 10 ONLINE WILL MAKERS
Below is a list of what is considered to be the top-10 online will makers in 2021. This would be a great starting point for individuals to begin the process of creating an online will.
Trust & Will
US Legal Wills
Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker & Trust