Why You Need a Will — and the Best DIY Platforms for Wills
Putting together your will so your family knows what your dying wishes are for your assets is something they’ll be thankful for. Creating a will yourself and saving $1,000 or so is something you can thank yourself for now.
One survey found that only 42% of U.S. adults have estate planning documents such as a will or living trust. For those with children under 18, it’s even lower at 36%.
If the work of creating your last will and testament seems like the last thing you want to do, in part because you think that only legal documents can be written by lawyers, there are plenty of DIY platforms that will create legal forms that will leave your loved ones in good hands.
We’ve reviewed six DIY platforms, costing nothing up to $89 just for a will alone. We also answer questions about why you need a will, and how it all works.
- Why should you use a DIY platform for wills
- Overview of the best DIY platforms for wills
- Best DIY platforms for wills summary
- The bottom line
Why should you use a DIY platform for wills
The main point of doing a will yourself is to have a will in hand so that your estate is distributed in the ways you want when you die. Doing it yourself can save you a lot of money, too.
Without a will, your estate may have to go through probate and your assets may not go to the people you want them to because a judge will make those decisions.
An online will-maker is a simple, inexpensive way to create a last will and testament and other legal documents so that your loved ones can carry out your wishes after you die. Documents such as a living will can be written on DIY platforms so that any special needs are taken care of by medical professionals.
An estate planning attorney can do these things too, but the pricing will be a lot higher than DIY.
The online software and legal forms can be filled out on a computer at home, and you can take your time and return to complete the process on your own schedule. Some forms take as little as five minutes to complete, and the online will makers we reviewed walk you through the process with step-by-step questionnaires.
Some have templates you fill out. One company we reviewed provides a free online will that you can update as needed over the years if your assets or other circumstances change. Before deciding which, if any, of the DIY wills you want to pay for, you may want to start at doyourownwill.com to get a free will and see if it fits your needs.
Some companies require subscriptions to revise your will later, which may be a service you’re willing to pay for. Some offer 30-minute consultations for a flat fee or as part of a subscription, which can be handy if you have questions about your will.
Overview of the best DIY platforms for wills
|LegalZoom||Easy to use|
|Nolo||+35 documents for one price|
|Rocket Lawyer||Low price|
|Trust & Will||Free updates for 1 year|
Best DIY platforms for wills
LegalZoom provides many types of legal documents that people may need at the end of their lives. Our focus is on a last will and testament, which details what happens to your property and who will raise your children, among other things. Without a will, state law determines these issues through probate.
LegalZoom has prices starting at $89 for this service. It also offers an estate plan bundle starting at $179. Other services it offers include:
- Living will, also called an advance healthcare directive
- Healthcare power of attorney
- Living trust
- Financial power of attorney
- Pet protection agreement
Creating a will takes 15 minutes or less. You start by answering a series of questions. You’ll choose someone to settle your affairs, decide what you want to leave to people or charities, and name a guardian for your kids.
For $10 more than the basic will, you’ll get legal advice for two weeks after purchase. Free revisions are allowed for 30 days.
Nolo’s Quicken Willmaker & Trust
Nolo’s Quicken Willmaker & Trust is $100, which may sound expensive, but you get a lot for your money. And it only comes at one price, with no add-ons available.
It provides the paperwork for a range of situations, with straightforward guidance for estate planning documents such as wills that fit your needs. You can use the software program at any time to revise and update your will.
It provides more than 35 documents. The main ones are a will, living trust, health care directive, durable power of attorney for finances, documents for the executor, funeral and other final arrangements, and home and family documents. You can make wills for anyone you want to.
The software must be downloaded to your computer, a PC or Mac with at least 2GB of memory. This allows you to use the documents whenever you want, so you can take as much time as you need.
One downside to Nolo is that its estate planning documents aren’t valid in Louisiana, U.S. territories, or Canada.
If you’re prepared to get your will completed and all of your legal questions answered within 30 days, Rocket Lawyer offers one of the cheapest legal documents around at $40 for a simple will.
You can either buy one will for $40, or become a “premium member” by paying a monthly subscription fee of $40. As a subscriber, you’ll get a will and last testament prepared, along with:
- A 30-minute consultation with one question answered per consultation
- An attorney review service
- Questions answered via email by legal consultants
- Unlimited document revisions and copies
A free seven-day trial is allowed, so you could ask for a refund after using its services for a week. That may be enough time to get your will completed. If not, your monthly subscription starts and continues until you cancel.
Rocket Lawyer is known for having great customer service. Its lawyers can be contacted by email, phone, or online chat, and responses are promised within one business day. An on-call attorney is available to answer immediate questions, a free 30-minute consultation is allowed.
Instead of using the free seven-day period from an online will maker to write your will, you can do it entirely for free at doyourownwill.com.
The site is legitimately free, and is designed to be that while also being comprehensive. No credit card or account are needed. Files can be downloaded instantly in Word or PDF. Payments are not accepted anywhere on the site.
Documents it provides include a last will and testament, living will, durable power of attorney, and a planning guide. The site walks you through the basic steps and interview-style questionnaire to compose a will online that will be legally binding.
The site can also be used to update a will, whether it was completed at doyourownwill or elsewhere. It can also create a duplicate will for a spouse. The will is valid in all 50 states.
The site is best for people with simple distribution plans who own property worth less than the limit for federal estate taxes. The site recommends that individuals with more than $5 million in total assets seek an attorney for their estate planning needs.
Creating a will at Law Depot is about as easy as it can get. In just five minutes you can print and download a will instantly after answering a few simple questions.
A will can be created for $20. However, the software isn’t downloaded to your computer, so you can only get continual access to your documents with a subscription. If you ever want to make a change to a will you created at Law Depot and printed out at home, you’ll have to start from scratch if you’re not a subscriber.
Law Depot doesn’t make it easy to find its prices. Other online reviews have listed the cost of a will at Law Depot at $20, with a monthly or annual subscription needed for unlimited document creation or printing, and to retain access to your documents. The annual pre-paid subscription equals $8 per month.
Trust & Will
For $89 for an individual will at Trust & Will, you get four documents:
- Last will and testament
- HIPAA authorization
- Living will
- Power of attorney
Those documents should be enough to satisfy your needs for a will when you die, and for any medical requests, you have at the end of your life.
Unlimited updates are allowed for one year, then cost $19 per year afterward. If you decide to set up a trust in the future, the money you’ve already paid for a will is applied for a trust, which starts at $399 for an individual.
You can download copies of your will, and paper copies will be mailed to you too.
Best DIY platforms for wills summary
|Company||Starting cost||Extras||How long to create|
|Nolo||$100||None||At your leisure|
|Rocket Lawyer||$40||$40/month||At your leisure|
|doyourownwill||Free||Free changes||At your leisure|
|Law Depot||$20||Subscription required||5-10 minutes|
|Trust & Will||$89/individual||$159/couple||15 minutes|
Why do I need a will?
To start, a will is a way to ensure your wishes are carried out after you die. This can include distributing your assets, naming legal guardians for minor children, and giving money to charities.
Without the legal document of a will, you cede control to the state where you live. It will decide who your heirs will be and who the executor of your estate is, along with how your property and other assets will be distributed.
Spouses are generally the heirs when a will isn’t provided, though states can also make domestic partners and blood relatives heirs to an estate. Unmarried partners, friends, and charities could get nothing.
If no relatives are found, the entire estate will likely be given to the state.
Without a will, the court could appoint a guardian for your minor children. It may not be the person you’d want to care for your kids.
Without a will, your assets could go into probate, a court proceeding that can take a year or so to resolve.
What is probate?
Probate is a legal process that verifies that the will is legal and that the deceased person’s intentions are carried out. Without a will, a probate court is also required to decide how to distribute assets.
For small estates, probate can take only a few weeks or months. For larger estates, it can take years. Anyone with a valid claim to any assets can contest the will in probate court, which can extend the case.
Having a will doesn’t help you avoid probate, but it can make it easier to resolve.
Many assets don’t go through probate court if a beneficiary has been named. These include bank and retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. The money will be transferred to the beneficiary when the owner dies, and after the death has been proven by the beneficiary, such as with a death certificate. Assets in trusts also don’t need to go through probate.
How can my estate avoid probate?
Large estates must go through probate whether there are a last will and testament or not. Whether a small estate must go through probate is state-specific, but most states have laws to help small estates avoid probate, with the assets going to a spouse or other close relative if someone dies without a will.
Bank accounts and certain other assets, as listed above, don’t need to go through probate.
In most states, small estates can avoid probate and the spouse has the right to claim the assets in your estate. Joint assets, such as a house, go entirely to the surviving owner.
Does the signature on my will need to be notarized?
No. The will must be signed in front of two witnesses, but no state requires that a will be notarized to be valid, according to Nolo.
Some states allow a self-proving affidavit to be attached to a will, and the affidavit must be notarized. This is a separate document, signed by your witnesses, that makes it simpler to admit your will to probate after your death. Nolo’s WillMaker prints out a self-proving affidavit if needed in your state.
Should I make a joint will with my spouse?
Nolo’s WillMaker suggests that each person makes their own will, even if they agree about how their property is to be distributed.
The legal reasoning is that joint wills are intended to prevent the surviving spouse from changing their mind about what to do with their real estate after the first spouse dies. A joint will could cause the property to be tied up for years and make it impossible for the surviving spouse to react to changed circumstances.
Also, court battles are fought over whether the surviving spouse can revoke any part of the joint will, according to Nolo.
To restrict how your property can be used after your death, or to make special provisions for children from a prior marriage, a trust is usually a better solution than a joint will, Nolo says. A lawyer can help set up such a trust.
What is a living will?
A will is enacted when you die. A living will is used when you’re alive, such as if you’re terminally ill.
A living will is a written declaration of your wishes about life-prolonging medical care if you become terminally ill and can’t communicate or a physician has determined that you will not recover from a vegetative state due to brain damage. Usually, you will be in a state that if you don’t receive life-sustaining treatment, such as intravenous feeding or a respirator, you will die.
A living will helps your family avoid medical expenses and prolonged grief in keeping you alive when there is no reasonable hope of revival. It typically authorizes withholding or turning off life-sustaining treatment.
It doesn’t have to be used to authorize abandonment by the medical system. It can be used to state your wishes to receive all possible treatment, whatever your condition.
Can I disinherit my spouse?
Most married couples leave everything to their spouse, and if that spouse doesn’t survive, then to the surviving children or to alternate beneficiaries if there are no children.
Occasionally, one spouse may try to disinherit and leave nothing to their current spouse in their will.
This isn’t easy, warns the website doyourownwill, and such people should seek legal counsel to be aware of the risks.
Most state laws prevent this, except under certain circumstances such as a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. The laws in almost every state protect the spousal right to a portion of the marital estate, according to doyourownwill. Community property laws often cover these issues.
If you intend to disinherit your current spouse or don’t plan to leave at least half of your property to them, then you no longer have a “simple will” and should talk to an experienced estate law attorney in your area.
When should I update my will?
A major life event such as a marriage, home purchase, childbirth, health change, or a major increase in assets is a good reason to update your will. You may want to change where assets go after you die, add beneficiaries, or add a living trust.
The will-making service Trust & Will recommends updating documents every three to five years.
What is a HIPAA authorization form?
If you’re setting up a living will for your loved ones to follow, you’ll likely come across the need for a HIPAA authorization form. This is a form required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the HIPAA Privacy Rule that protects patient confidentiality.
Most health care providers, insurers, and others must comply with this 1996 law to protect their private health care data. Patients must sign a HIPAA form to authorize that their health information is shared, including with a spouse or other close family member.
Your son, for example, will need to be named on the form so doctors can talk to him about your living will or health care directive, so that your requests are carried out.
The bottom line
Online wills are just as legal as those written by lawyers. Once the documents have the necessary signatures from yourself and witnesses, they’re legal and can be used as valid wills.
However, if you’re more comfortable paying for legal services to make sure your will is done correctly, or you have a large and complicated estate, then working with an estate planning attorney can be worth the cost.
But for saving money and to give you peace of mind, a DIY will is a smart way to go.
It can be done cheaply, from $20 to $89 for a simple will, and can even be done for free at one online service. If nothing else, you can start making an online will for free, and then switch to a paid one online elsewhere if the free one doesn’t meet your needs.
Your loved ones will thank you for your foresight for something that won’t hopefully be needed for a long time.