Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.
What happens to your belongings if you die unexpectedly?
Yes, it’s a tough topic to tackle, but no matter how hard you ignore it, you’ll die someday. Everyone will.
Whether that’s this year or 70 years from now, you’ll want to make sure your loved ones are taken care of when you’re gone.
That’s where a will can help. But estate planning means legalese and witnesses and paperwork. It can all be very overwhelming.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be. You can easily draft a legally binding will online and sleep better at night.
However, there are some things to be aware of if you plan to use an online will maker.
The Importance of a Will
When you die, you’ll leave assets behind. That includes the money in the bank, the equity in your home and all the furniture, clothing, electronic equipment and other items you’ve collected over the years.
If you die without a will, you’ll be classified by the courts as having died intestate. Local laws govern how assets are handled, but your estate will likely enter a phase known as probate.
Without a will, the court fees will come out of your estate, and it will typically cost more than if you’d paid a lawyer before death.
But there’s a more important reason to avoid dying intestate. Without a will, your assets will be distributed by the court.
In many cases, that means your spouse and/or children will inherit everything. If you don’t have a spouse and children, your parents will likely inherit your belongings.
A will gives you control over who gets what, but it does take time to create. If you’re looking for a cheap will you can put in place quickly, an online will maker might be a good option.
What Are Online Will Makers?
At one time, getting a will meant sitting down with an attorney. You’d pay an hourly or fixed rate, and the attorney would make sure the will was completed according to local laws.
But in recent years, online legal services have gone mainstream. You can easily create a will online that’s as legally sound as one you’d get from a local attorney.
However, there are still some caveats.
“Make sure you do all the things the state requires for a will to be binding, such as notarizations or notarizations with witnesses,” Bob Chitrathorn, CPFA and CFO/vice president of wealth planning at Simplified Wealth Management, said.
3 Tips for Getting a Will Online
While it’s easy to make a will online, easy doesn’t always equal safe and legal. Before you choose an online will maker, here are some tips to help keep you protected.
1. Make It Legal
When it comes to wills, you may have heard that all you need to do is scrawl your wishes on a piece of paper.
While that’s technically true, it’s a risky way to go. If someone contests the will or there are questions, a handwritten will that was neither notarized nor witnessed can easily be amended by a judge.
Each state has its own set of regulations when it comes to wills. In many states, a will has to be signed in front of two witnesses, and some even require it to be notarized.
Only a handful of states recognize nuncupative wills, which is a will that is stated out loud but not in writing.
Even where oral wills are legal, you’ll need to state your wishes in front of witnesses.
2. Choose a Secure Provider
By the time your will is ready, you’ll have provided a wealth of information. That includes the names, birthdates, contact information and financial accounts of you and/or your spouse.
This type of information can be a goldmine for an identity thief looking to commit fraud.
Sure, you may keep your will safely tucked away, but if the service you used to create it experiences a data breach, all that information could be compromised.
“Make sure the company is reputable by looking at their data security measures,” Mitch Mitchell, associate counsel of estate planning at Trust & Will, said.
“This should be easy to find on their website. When you’re sharing sensitive information online, you want to ensure that data is kept private.”
3. Know Your Limitations
One thing software can’t replace is the expertise of an attorney. Those billable hours buy you answers to any questions you have.
Software, on the other hand, relies on you to answer the questions, and that can be a problem.
“The end product is based on your answers to the various questions,” Chitrathorn said.
“Like tax software, they ask you questions and results are based on your answers. If your answers are wrong, you will probably get a result that you didn’t mean to or that isn’t correct.”
3 Online Will Makers
Now that you have the lowdown on how to make a will online, here are a few services to consider.
1. Rocket Lawyer
When it comes to affordability, you can’t go wrong with Rocket Lawyer. You can make a will for free, but there’s a catch. You’ll have to sign up for the site’s seven-day trial to download the document.
The good news is, you can simply pay a $39.99 one-time fee to access the document and make changes later.
With Rocket Lawyer, you get a template to help you make your will. You don’t get the step-by-step questionnaire found with other services, which can make it a little tougher to use.
But if you pay for the $39.99 monthly subscription, you can access attorneys to answer your legal questions, which is a huge bonus.
2. Trust & Will
Although it’s not as affordable as Rocket Lawyer, Trust & Will gets major points for its ease of use. You’ll get step-by-step questions that guide you through creating your will.
If you need help, you can contact support through a variety of methods.
As for price, Trust & Will is still a great place to get a cheap will. You can get a last will and testament, HIPAA authorization, living will and power of attorney for a $159 flat fee.
3. Quicken Will Maker
Owned by online legal publisher Nolo, Quicken Will Maker offers estate planning documents for an annual fee.
Plans start at $99 per year and give you access to unlimited revisions to your documents as long as your membership is active.
This option stands out for its state-specific wills. You’ll be prompted to input your geographic information, and your documents will be tailored to your local laws.
Nolo has a team of attorneys who keep up with laws in each of these states to ensure you’re compliant.
Creating a will online is an affordable alternative to relying on a local attorney. But it’s important to shop around and make sure you’re getting answers to all your questions.
Even if you do need extra legal help, though, many online legal services give you the advice you need without the high hourly cost.