An online will is a document downloaded from a website and printed out, or created on a website and then downloaded. It outlines how a person’s real and personal property will be distributed when they die.
An online will can be created a few different ways. Some websites might ask questions and then fill in a state-specific template with the answers. Other websites provide forms that allow a person to fill in the blanks with their personal information.
Once downloaded, the will is printed so that the testator and witnesses can sign it. Some websites will store the will for a fee, making it easier to update.
Are Online Wills Legal?
An online will is legal if it meets the requirements of the state where the will is executed. Some states have very specific rules about wills.
For example, some states recognize holographic or handwritten wills signed only by the testator, while others specifically require a certain number of witnesses to sign the will. Sometimes it is necessary that the witnesses be people who are “disinterested” and will not receive any of the property or assets in the will when the testator dies.
Many states require the will be signed at the end of the document, while others allow the signature to appear anywhere. It is important to know the requirements of your state before starting an online will.
Is My Online Will Valid?
It does not matter whether the will was prepared online or by an attorney, so long as it is valid. In order for a will to be valid, it must meet the requirements of the state where the testator lives.
There are some basic rules that generally apply in every situation.
A will is valid when it meets the the following requirements:
- Intent. The person writing the will intends that the document be their last will and testament, and for it to dispose of their property when they die.
- A person must be “of sound mind.” The legal term testamentary capacity generally means that a person is at least 18 years old and understands that they are making a will. They know what property they have to distribute in the will and what it means to leave it to someone.
- Executed free from fraud, duress, undue influence, or mistake. The person making the will was not tricked or pressured into making the will, or to distribute their property a particular way.
- Signed and dated. The will must be signed and dated by the testator and witnesses.
Even a legal and valid will can be contested or challenged. Unless a person has a very simple estate, with a small amount of property and few beneficiaries, it can be difficult for a person using an online will to ensure it can survive a contest.
There might be tax implications or other financial considerations that make the distribution of property more complicated. Retirement accounts, investments, and property co-owned by another person may not be thoroughly addressed in an online will.
Even an estate that appears to be simple might become complicated if there are children involved, especially step-children. Choosing a guardian and setting up a trust are important decisions with long-term consequences.
Some people are very focused on making specific bequests of items or money to their family members or friends, and forget to address where the rest of the estate will go. Without a residuary estate clause to answer that question, family members may be forced to ask a court to decide. That process can be time consuming and expensive.
Do I Need Help From a Lawyer to Create an Online Will?
Yes. You should consider bringing a draft of your online will to a will attorney and ask them to review it for you. They can provide advice specific to your situation and make sure your will meets the requirements of your state laws. They can also check for conflicting language and verify that the document is thorough, complete, and likely to stand up to any legal challenges.
An experienced estate planning attorney will know the most common mistakes people make when using an online will, and can help you avoid the unintended consequences of those errors. They will be able to identify aspects of your situation that an online template with minimal personalization was not able to address.
If you are taking the time to make a will and a plan for after you die, then it is important to you that your wishes are carried out the way you want. Having an attorney review your will decreases the risk that your estate is not handled the way you intended. Online wills might save you money up front, but there is no substitute for experience.