Coping with the death of a family member is difficult at the best of times. But if that person died intestate — that is, without making a will — it can be an absolute nightmare.
When someone dies intestate, state law determines how their assets get divided up. Their nearest relatives may have to appear in court and produce their birth certificates just to prove their relationship to the deceased. Their closest friends and even their domestic partner will most likely get nothing at all. Sorting it all out can take weeks or months, potentially leaving the family struggling just to cover the cost of the funeral.
The only way to spare your friends and relatives from this situation is to make a will. Yet according to AARP,6 out of 10 American adults haven’t done so. When asked why, the most common reason they give is that they just haven’t gotten around to it.
The job of making a will can seem overwhelming. However, online will-makers make it easier. For a modest fee, these services walk you through the steps needed to allocate your assets, arrange for the care of your children, and make plans for your funeral — all in an hour or less.
Best Online Will-Makers
One reason some people put off making a will is the cost. According to data gathered by Thumbtack, Americans who hired lawyers to create a will in 2019 typically paid between $940 and $1,500 for the service. For many people, that’s practically all the money they have to leave in the first place.
Online will software and services offer a solution. With these applications, you can produce a will that’s just as legal as one drafted by a lawyer for $250 or less. There are even some services that cost nothing at all.
The best online will-makers all share certain features. They’re easy to use, providing lots of guidance, and they’re updated frequently to keep their legal advice current. However, which specific service is best for you depends on your priorities.
For instance, do you want drafting your will to be as quick and easy as possible, or do you need a more complex system that can handle advanced estate planning? Do you need a free service, or are you willing to pay for access to a lawyer who can answer your questions? Consider your needs, and then consider which of these services can meet them best.
1. Trust & Will
The online service Trust & Will also offers access to a variety of legal documents. In addition to wills, it can create living wills, trusts, and other estate-planning documents.
Trust & Will offers a variety of customized state-specific legal documents. In addition to wills, it can do living wills, powers of attorney, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act authorizations, which allow health care providers and others to share your private health information. You can also use the site to create trusts and guardianship documents.
One extra feature of Trust & Will is that you can sign and notarize it online in states that allow it. You can also access and edit your completed will at any time.
Ease of Use
Trust & Will’s service is relatively fast and straightforward. You can answer the site’s questions, download and review your will, and sign it electronically in as little as 10 minutes. The site also ships you a paper copy you can sign and have notarized in person.
If you’re a customer of the insurance company Haven Life, you get access to Trust & Will for free. For everyone else, the service costs $69 for individuals or $129 for couples. You can also purchase a guardianship document for $39 ($49 for couples). The service comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
2. Quicken WillMaker
The legal resource Nolo, which helps people find a lawyer or consult a legal encyclopedia, has partnered with Quicken to produce Quicken WillMaker & Trust. This downloadable software, available for Mac or Windows computers, is easy to use and can meet all your will-making needs for one flat fee.
What sets Quicken WillMaker apart from the competition is its comprehensiveness. It can do more than just help you make a will. It offers complete customized estate planning. You can use it to create a health care directive (also called a living will), a financial power of attorney, a living trust, a letter to survivors outlining your last wishes, and many related documents.
Quicken WillMaker is updated yearly. Documents made using the software are valid in every state in the United States except Louisiana. Nolo works with a team of lawyer-editors to make sure all its documents reflect the laws of the state where they’ll be used. However, its documents aren’t valid in U.S. territories or Canada.
Ease of Use
The software provides a series of questions to help you figure out which documents you need and walk you through the steps of creating them. A basic will takes about 15 minutes to complete.
The current version of the software costs $89 and includes free updates to keep it valid through the end of 2020.
Another service that gets enthusiastic recommendations from multiple sources is LegalZoom. Its standout feature is the access it provides to legal counsel from an independent attorney familiar with your state’s laws. However, you pay extra for that service.
LegalZoom’s downloadable software has three tiers. With the basic package, you can make a personalized state-specific will using forms vetted by attorneys. However, you cannot consult with an attorney directly. After making your will, you can download it digitally and store it in your LegalZoom account. If you wish to make revisions, you can do so free of charge for up to 30 days.
The comprehensive tier has all the same features as the basic tier, but it adds a free 14-day trial of LegalZoom’s attorney advice service. That allows you to consult an independent attorney on your estate plan or any other legal matter for up to 30 minutes at a time.
The most expensive tier is the estate plan bundle. This package includes not only a will but also living will and financial power of attorney documents. It comes with a full year of attorney advice and the ability to make unlimited free revisions to your will.
Ease of Use
Like Quicken WillMaker, LegalZoom uses a questionnaire format to lay out your final wishes. This quick and easy process allows you to complete a will in as little as 15 minutes.
The basic software costs $89. The comprehensive tier costs $99, and the attorney advice service renews at $15 per month if you don’t cancel it after the trial period. The estate plan bundle costs $179 and renews annually at $120.
If you know your will is going to be relatively simple — for instance, “I leave everything to my sister” — then LegalZoom or Quicken Willmaker are probably overkill. A more basic alternative is LawDepot. It’s even quicker to use than its competitors, and your first seven days of the service are free.
LawDepot is a very basic service. It doesn’t provide access to an attorney like LegalZoom or full estate planning like Quicken Willmaker. However, it does provide legal documents that are usable in all 50 states, including wills, codicils (legal forms for changing an existing will), powers of attorney, health care directives, and gift deeds (documents for handing over a large sum of money to someone else while you’re alive). The service provides access to an online library of legal articles, resources, and guides, as well as customer support via email or live chat.
Ease of Use
LawDepot is one of the most straightforward services to use. All you have to do is answer a few simple questions, and in five to 10 minutes, you have a will ready to download or print.
There are two ways to use LawDepot. First, you can sign up for a one-week free trial that gives you access to all the service’s documents. If you don’t cancel within that time, your service will renew at the rate of $33 per month. If you plan to use the service regularly, you can pay $96 for a full-year membership. Or if you know you only want to create a will and nothing else, you can pay a flat $50 that allows you to store, edit, print, and download your document for 10 years.
If you’re not sure whether your estate is simple enough for an online will-maker to handle, Willing can help. It offers a quick questionnaire to help you find out whether the service is suitable for you. It’s also easier to use with a mobile device than most services.
This online-only service provides access to a whole suite of forms for one flat fee. In addition to a will, you can use Willing to create a power of attorney, a living will, a revocable living trust, or a transfer on death deed that keeps your home out of the probate process. All documents are state-specific, and you can edit them at any time. Willing doesn’t provide access to a lawyer, but it offers an online library of legal articles that cover the basics of wills, estate planning, and probate.
Ease of Use
Like most online will-makers, Willing uses a step-by-step checklist to guide you through the process of making a will. Its mobile-friendly format makes it easy to use anywhere. However, it can take a little longer to work through than some other services. Willing says you can use it to create a will in “just 30 minutes” — twice as long as most services claim for a simple will.
Willing costs $69 for a complete set of estate planning documents. You can get started for free and only pay when you’re ready to download and sign your will.
6. U.S. Legal Wills
If you’re married, you and your spouse both need to have wills. With U.S. Legal Wills, creating a pair of wills for the two of you is nearly as quick and easy as making one.
The signature feature of U.S. Legal Wills is the ability to make “mirror wills.” Mirror wills are matching documents that exactly reflect each other in their terms. For instance, you can make a will leaving everything to your spouse and, if your spouse dies before you, dividing your assets equally among your children. Your spouse’s will would be the mirror image of that, leaving everything to you and then to the kids.
Wills and other documents from U.S. Legal Wills are valid in all 50 states. You can store your will online and update it at any time for up to one year. The service also includes a digital vault in which you can store important files, such as documents, photos, and videos — whether they’re related to your will or not. The service lets you designate a “keyholder” who can access the vault only after your death.
A basic will from U.S. Legal Wills does not come with legal advice. However, if you have a complicated will or additional documents, such as a living will, you can pay an extra fee to have the documents reviewed by a lawyer.
Ease of Use
U.S. Legal Wills uses plain language that’s easy to follow. It guides you through a series of questions approved by an attorney and produces a will in 20 minutes or less.
Making a single will through U.S. Legal Wills costs $40. Adding a mirror will for your spouse is $24 extra, a discount of 20% compared to doing both wills separately. There’s an additional charge for add-on forms, like a power of attorney ($30) or a living will ($20). You can also pay extra for additional years of online storage ($12 and up) or legal review ($69).
7. Rocket Lawyer
If you expect your estate situation to change soon, Rocket Lawyer could be a good choice for your online will. This monthly subscription service gives you access to a wide range of legal documents — not just wills — and allows you to make unlimited revisions and copies.
All documents on the Rocket Lawyer site are vetted by a legal team and are valid in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. If there’s ever any dispute involving your will or any other document, the site provides access to an on-call attorney who can respond to it on your behalf. You can revise, download, and print your will at any time, and you can sign it electronically in seconds.
Ease of Use
Rocket Lawyer uses the same questionnaire format as most online will-makers. The site claims you can create a will “in minutes,” though it doesn’t specify how many.
A premium subscription to Rocket Lawyer costs $40 per month. Your first week of the service is free, which should give you enough time to make a will if that’s all you want to do. However, if you choose to keep the service, you can use it for a wide variety of other documents, including powers of attorney, lease agreements, and business contracts.
8. Do Your Own Will
All online will-makers are cheaper than using a lawyer, but Do Your Own Will is one of the few that’s completely free. It’s only appropriate for simple wills, but it’s quick and easy, and the price is impossible to beat.
Do Your Own Will provides the necessary forms to create a will, living will, or durable power of attorney. The site doesn’t offer any access to a legal team. But there’s a section with some basic information on legal topics, such as what a will includes, the probate process, naming an executor, and naming guardians for children. You can save your will online and return to the site to update it at any time.
Ease of Use
Creating a will involves just a few simple steps. First, you enter some basic information, like your name, address, and marital status. Then you name an executor for your will and explain how you’d like your assets to be distributed. Finally, you can download or save your will as either an editable document file or a PDF.
Do Your Own Will is a 100% free online service. The site makes money through advertising and affiliate links.
Another site that allows you to create a will at no charge is Fabric. This company is mainly in the business of selling term life insurance, but it also offers a free online will kit as a perk. You don’t even have to buy an insurance policy to use it.
Fabric says its wills are designed mainly for families with young children. They include such features as appointing a guardian for your children, mirroring wills with your spouse, and outlining your wishes about funeral plans. The service is ideal for families with relatively simple estate needs.
Ease of Use
All you have to do is answer a few simple questions and create a will that’s ready to print and sign. A 2018 study by Fabric found more than 75% of its customers could complete a will in under 10 minutes, and half took seven minutes or less. You can even do it from a mobile device. Once your will is ready, you can use the Fabric app to share it with relatives and other people in your life.
Fabric’s online will service is free for anyone to use. Fabric also offers a free iOS or Android app you can use to apply for life insurance and keep track of your family finances.
Finalizing Your Online Will
Many of the services on this list claim they can create a will for you in a matter of minutes. Technically, that’s true, but in most states, your newly drafted will won’t be legally binding. To make it official, you have to sign the will in the presence of two disinterested witnesses — that is, people who do not inherit anything under the terms of the will, such as your co-workers. Signing in the presence of a notary public is optional, but it can make the probate process easier for your heirs.
In some states, you can do this online using electronic signatures. According to The New York Times, Nevada and Indiana already recognize e-signatures as legal, and Florida and Arizona are set to legalize them in 2020. But in all other states, for the time being, you must print out your will, sign it, and have witnesses’ sign it.
However, according to U.S. News & World Report, some states are loosening their requirements for will signing and notarization in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In New York, for instance, it’s now possible to connect with a notary public via video chat. To find out what is legal in your state, try doing an online search with “electronic will signing” and the name of your state. Look for information from reliable sources, such as your state’s official website or the website of an attorney licensed in your state.
If online notarization isn’t legal in your state, you may need to get creative to get your will witnessed or notarized while practicing social distancing. For instance, you can sign your will at a table while the witnesses and notary watch from several feet away. Then you can step away and let the witnesses and the notary each step up in turn to sign it with their own pens.
Once you have a completed, signed will, you need to store it in a safe place. Even better, make several copies of the will and store them in different places so even if you lose or damage one copy, there are others available. For instance, you can keep one in a safe deposit box at the bank, one in a fireproof safe at home, and one with a lawyer or a trusted friend. You can also keep an electronic copy on file, either on your personal computer or with the service where you made the will.
Wherever you choose to store your will, make sure your executor knows where it is. That way, they can retrieve the will quickly after your death and get your assets to your heirs as quickly as possible.
Online will software isn’t for everyone. If you own a business, you have a lot of assets, or your family situation is complicated, it’s worth hiring a lawyer who specializes in wills, estates, and trusts. In these situations, it’s also a good idea to talk to a financial advisor about estate planning.
For everyone else, though, online will-makers offer a useful and inexpensive alternative. One of their most significant advantages is that they’re easy to use, so they can get you past the hurdle of procrastination. It’s much better to make a simple will today using an online service than to risk dying intestate because you’re putting off the job until you can “do it right” with a lawyer.
However, making a will today doesn’t mean you’re done with the job forever. There’s a good chance your life situation will change in the years to come, especially if you’re still fairly young. For instance, you could get married or divorced, buy or sell a home, or have children or grandchildren.
When these big events happen, you need to update your will to reflect your new circumstances. In some cases, you can do that by writing a codicil. In others, it makes more sense to write a new will from scratch. So when you’re choosing an online will-maker, think about the chances that you’ll need to change your will in the future, and choose one that makes it easy to do so if necessary.
If you had to make a will today, how would you prefer to do it? Would you hire a lawyer, use an online will-maker, or write it yourself by hand?