Are Online Wills Legal?

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What Are Online Wills?

An online will is a document that is downloaded from the Internet and used to explain how a person wishes to have their estate distributed when they die. Many online wills allow a person to create, modify, and save their will through various templates supplied by legal self-help websites. Some of these websites even offer an option to store the will to allow for easier modification.

Since online wills are a new phenomenon, they are rife with complications and flaws.

Are Online Wills Legal?

It depends, but probably. First of all, "legal" does not mean valid, well-written, or bullet proof. Thus, even if an online will is "legal," it may nonetheless not be valid or immune to certain challenges. For instance, if the online will was not properly witnessed or executed in a state that does not allow holographic wills, the online will is likely not valid, and the result will likely be that the intestacy, or inheritance, laws of the state will dictate who will get what property.

Is My Online Will Valid?

Again, it depends. Even if an online will is valid, it may nonetheless be poorly written, susceptible to contests, and invalidation. Put simply, a valid will typically requires that the person writing the will:

  1. Be of sound mind – "sound mind" generally means that the person is at least 18 years old, knows what a will is, and appreciates the property they are distributing in the will and to whom they are distributing it to.
  2. Sign and date the will.
  3. Have the will signed by at least two or three witnesses – the number of required witnesses depends on the state law. Further, many states require that the witnesses are not "interested," meaning they are not receiving anything under the will. Finally, many states require the witnesses sign the will in the presence of each other and the drafter of the will.
  4. Have intent – the person drafting the will should have the necessary intent and describe how they would like their property distributed when they die.

By looking at those requirements, one can see how writing a will on the Internet can pose problems for validity. Additionally, while an online will may offer some guidance, there is no substitute for professional advice, particularly in an area that is highly specific.

For example, if an individual gives out property in a will that they only partly own, those portions of the will may be invalidated. Even more complicated is in the event the online will has a clause that removes a person from the will if they contest it, yet the will or many portions of it wind up being invalid. There, that person can still challenge the will, and will be excluded. However, because the will was invalid, that person may still take property under the default intestacy laws of the state because the will was poorly drafted.

Should I Seek Legal Advice?

Yes. If you have filled out an online will, you should consider printing it out and taking it to an estate planning lawyer. Wills and estate planning is complex and highly state specific, and regardless of how intelligent you are, only a qualified lawyer should handle the document that distributes your estate to ensure it is well written and strong. While legal self-help is appealing because it can save on a bill, there really is no price you can put on protecting your family and legacy.

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Last Modified: 05-29-2014 03:28 PM PDT

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