A will might not benefit you much in the here and now, but it's one of the best things you can do for your loved ones in the future. The last thing you want to do is to die "intestate," or without a will to explain what to do with your property and personal items.
A will is a legal document that specifies the directions forafter your death, including to whom your property will be directed and who will take care of your children and pets. It also names an executor, or person in charge of enacting your plan, and gives them directions.
Creating a will with a lawyer will cost you somewhere between $200 and $1,000, depending on its complexity and your lawyer's hourly rate. Making one yourself online will generally cost between $40 and $100. Some online software services will even let you do it for free.
Online will makers usually provide all the basic forms, such as power of attorney, living will and health care directives. Some let you create your will using software alone, while others supply remote legal guidance and assistance along the way.
We evaluated online will makers for price, attorney access, quality of the legal document guidance and user interface, and the inclusion and accessibility of all relevant forms. Read on to find our top picks for online will makers.
Best online will makers
When it comes to planning your estate, Rocket Lawyer does it all. And the legal service company's free seven-day trial may be long enough and provide enough features to give you what you need: You can create up to three estate planning 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 legal advice consultation for any specific questions. And the included legal counsel document review protects you from making major legal document mistakes that could render your will invalid.
Creating wills and the other necessary estate planning legal forms on Rocket Lawyer is simple and painless. It took me around 15 minutes to complete the process. It's fairly easy to find additional estate planning information on any given subject such as real estate, durable power, advance directives, health care directives, HIPAA authorization, inheritance tax, estate tax and probate court 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 afterward. Bottom line: This is the best online will maker for most people.
This solid legal document software package from Nolo, available for Windows and Mac, provides all of the estate planning forms and documentation you'll need for $100. The legal forms 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 for legal advice -- so there's no legal professional 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 and other estate planning documents 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 with the other will makers. But Nolo Quicken WillMaker and Trust was by far the most thorough of all of the ones 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 estate plan 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 free online will and estate planning option. I drafted a basic will in about 5 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 at 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 becoming incapacitated. You can also apply for life insurance within the Fabric platform.
We found the estate planning software 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 hard copy.
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 Legal Zoom 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 estate planning software 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 essential document state-specific online will maker starts at $159, with additional estate planning 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 to what you'd get from Rocket Lawyer -- but it's considerably more expensive.
Best online will makers, compared
||Best for first-timers||Best for frequent updates||Best for simple wills||Best for young families|
|Service||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|
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 that your beneficiaries will 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 legal document 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 that 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.
When should I get an attorney involved with my estate planning?<br/>
If you have a large or complex estate or own real estate, it's worthwhile paying $1,000 to $2,000 to a legal professional 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.
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.
More financial advice
- The Best Budget App for 2022
The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.