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Online Will: How to File This Essential Estate Planning Document Without a Lawyer

Did you know - you don't need to work with a lawyer to file a will? There are many ways to make a will online - here's how to do it.

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According to a Care.com study, less than half of American adults have a Will. The most popular reasons why people don’t have a Will yet include:

  • “I haven’t gotten around to it.”

  • “I don’t have enough assets to pass on.”

  • “It’s too expensive to set up.”

  • “I don’t know how to get one.”

Perceived barriers appear to be cost, difficulty, and lack of access. This is likely because most Americans think that setting up a Will is a lengthy, expensive process that requires a lawyer. Further, there’s a misperception that estate planning is only for the wealthy. All of this could not be further from the truth. 

In fact, the number of young adults who have a Will increased by 63% in 2020. Nearly half of adults aged 18 to 34 now have an estate plan, which is a larger proportion relative to older adults. COVID-19 was cited as a major impetus. So, what gives? How are younger adults, who are less likely to have bountiful assets, funds to afford a lawyer, or the experience to navigate a lengthy legal process — how are they setting up more Wills than older generations?

That’s because the estate planning industry has evolved, and Wills can now be created online. With proper education, you’ll quickly see how there’s no excuse not to have an estate plan in place. In this guide, we’ll show you how to file a will without a lawyer so that you can protect your assets and thus your loved ones, once and for all.

Are Online Wills Legal?

Yes, online wills are entirely legal. Companies that offer online Will creation services work with licensed attorneys and professional experts to ensure that the resulting estate planning documents comply with the law and are legally binding.

That being said, keep in mind that there are several online will services out there, and not all are created equal. It’s best to do your due diligence by checking the fine print, comparing reviews, and going with the company you trust most.

How to File a Will Without a Lawyer - A Step by Step Guide

Below, you’ll find a general step-by-step guide on how to file a Will without a lawyer. Although the steps may vary slightly depending on the service provider, the basic components of a Will are the same, regardless of whether it’s online or through a traditional attorney. By preparing in advance, you’ll save yourself time and trouble. When you go to make your will online, you won’t have to scramble for information when prompted.

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Step 1: Create a list of assets

First, write down a list of all the assets you can think of. Don’t limit yourself to financial assets; Wills are also comprised of real property, personal belongings, family heirlooms, and anything else you can think of that you’d like to gift to your future generations. 

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Real estate, including land

  • Checking, savings, money market accounts

  • Stocks, bonds, retirement accounts

  • Digital assets

  • Cars, artwork, jewelry, sentimental items

  • Business, business assets, intellectual property

Step 2: Include necessary language

Make sure that your online will includes the necessary legal language. The resulting document should be titled “Last Will and Testament” and should clearly state that the Will and testament are in your name. Further, it should state that you are sound of mind. Finally, prevent any identity confusion by providing your full name, date of birth, and address. Your online Will template should also include a line for your signature, along with the names, addresses, dates, and signatures for three witnesses.

Step 3: List out immediate relatives

Next, spend time listing out all of your immediate relatives. Although you may not intend to include everyone in your Will, it’s a worthwhile exercise. At the very least, you will need the full names of your spouse and children, along with marriage and birth dates.

Go through the list and consider each of your family member’s personal and financial circumstances, as well as any needs you may have. If you plan to include two or more relatives in your Will, this exercise will help you decide on how to divide your assets. It might even occur to you to gift a certain asset to a relative you did not plan to include at first.

Step 4: Specify beneficiaries

Next, specify what you want to leave to whom. It’s very important to be as specific as possible, to avoid causing any confusion or conflict. Provide your beneficiaries’ full names, and describe the specific property in great detail. If it’s real estate, include the address. If it’s an asset, specify the dollar amount. If it’s a car, list the make, model, and year.

Step 5: Determine wishes for guardianship, if needed

If you have any children who are minors, you can name a guardian who you’d like to take care of them in case of your passing. It’s advised to name a contingent guardian in case your first choice cannot or will not take on the responsibility.

Step 6: Name your Executor

Naming the executor of your Will is an important decision. This should be someone who you absolutely trust to carry out your wishes. It’s also recommended to select someone who is fair-minded and can stay relatively neutral in case any family feuds arise. You should also name a backup executor in case your first choice is unavailable.

Step 7: Sign the will

Signing the Will is what makes it go into effect. You must sign it in front of three witnesses, and these witnesses cannot be included in the Will, nor can they be natural heirs. The purpose of this is to have relatively neutral parties verify that you were sound of mind when you signed the Will into effect. Once you sign the document, your three witnesses will also sign and date the Will. They should also spell out their names and include their addresses.

Step 8: Tell loved ones about the will and where it lives

Last but not least, store your Will in a safe place. Make sure to tell your Executor and your loved ones know where you keep it, and how to access it. This will help ensure that family members are aware that a Will exists, and so that they can access it in the case of your passing.

Get Started Today with an Online Will Maker 

Creating an online Will is easy. Online Will creation services have taken a lot of the guesswork out of making a Will, and have removed the need to hire your own attorney. The hard part is coming up with the information that will go into the Will. We hope that the above guide on how to file a will without a lawyer above will help you feel more prepared. 

At Trust and Will, we’ve created a platform that makes creating an online Will easy and accessible. Investopedia ranked our services as the best for ease of use, citing advantages such as an intuitive website, forms created in a matter of minutes, and a comprehensive learning center. Speaking of, we offer a plentitude of educational articles so that you can learn everything there is to know about establishing an estate plan, including a Trust or Will. See our extensive Will Preparation guide as an example. If you ever get stuck, our support representatives are always there to help as well. Get started today!

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