For almost all households creating a will is a straightforward, if unpleasant, task. Many individuals will simply have some cash, investments and (often) a home to disperse. And they have a relatively small number of friends and relatives they can leave that to. Dividing that property up is typically uncomplicated. But it is important to make sure you follow state and local laws. That’s where services such as U.S. Legal Wills come in. We’ll discuss how it works.
While it’s possible to create a will on your own, estate planning is a complex endeavor. Talk to a financial advisor today.
People with large estates or sophisticated needs should not try to make their own will, even with a service. They should see an attorney who can help them navigate the potentially confusing world of estate and property law. People with mid-sized estates and straightforward wishes can make another plan. In this case, your needs will likely be clear enough that you can use already prepared documents and a legal database.
What Is U.S. Legal Wills?
U.S. Legal Wills is a website that helps you to draft your own estate planning documents, such as a will, a power of attorney and a living will. It uses prepared forms and templates that it fills in based on your specific wishes and needs.
It works very similarly to a tax preparation website. When you use Legal Wills, you select the document you want to create. Then, the website guides you through the process with a series of questions, tools and tips that gather information about your wishes, your assets, your heirs and family members and other relevant information. In the end, it generates your estate documents, which you can either print out or keep in electronic form.
For people who enroll in a membership, U.S. Legal Wills also offers long-term services. For an additional fee it will store your estate documents online, helping clients to avoid the issue of a missing or unproven will. It can also host funeral instructions and other after-death wishes, which can be automatically distributed after your death.
Best Way to Use U.S. Legal Wills
The best way to think of this service is like a TurboTax for estate planning. The software behind U.S. Legal Wills is very similar to what estate lawyers use in their own offices when they draft a will for their clients. It relies on a series of standard forms and documents and fills in specific information on a case-by-case basis. This is how most lawyers prepare a will because it helps them to speed up drafting and avoid mistakes of omission.
However, despite its name, U.S. Legal Wills is not a law firm. It cannot offer legal advice or solutions specific to your situation. Instead, it can prepare a document that will generally meet the needs of someone with your profile. For example, if you say “I would like to leave my house to my two children,” the website will fill in a template for splitting a house between two next-of-kin heirs. The language will meet the needs of a standard client, but it will be up to you to review the document and make sure that the template meets your specific needs.
This can work because, again like how an accountant is not required to do your taxes, the law does not require an attorney to prepare a will. Individuals can prepare their own wills, and U.S. Legal Wills gives you a tool that helps you do that.
In most, if not all, jurisdictions you will still need to find witnesses to countersign your will. In some jurisdictions, you may also need to have the document notarized. U.S. Legal Wills does not provide these services. Once you have prepared your will, you will need to find witnesses and (if necessary) notaries on your own.
What Does It Cost?
U.S. Wills has four price points.
The basic service costs $40 and helps you to prepare a last will and testament. This service helps you fill out the templates for a will using a series of questions and prompts and then provides you with documents that you can print out.
It includes standard concerns such as real estate, guardians for minor children, charitable bequests and nomination of an executor. It also includes some noteworthy and advanced concerns such as establishing trusts for the care of your children.
The advanced service costs $80, although, at the time of writing, it was discounted to $70. This service includes the entire basic product. It also offers a series of after-death options, allowing you to write final messages to loved ones and document your funeral wishes. U.S. Legal Wills will keep this information on file and will release it to nominated “keyholders” after your death.
The “Complete Estate Plan” costs $130, although, at the time of writing, it was discounted to $100. As above, it includes all services available in the previous tiers. It also provides you with the forms to name your power of attorney, if you are ever incapacitated, and to write a living trust, in case you need to make your medical wishes known in advance.
Finally, U.S. Legal Wills’ Premium Estate Plan costs $180, although, at the time of writing, it was discounted to $130. It offers all of the above, plus storage of your will and estate planning documents. While this may seem trivial, there is real value to having your will stored in a secure, known location so that your heirs don’t need to worry about finding documents that may have become scattered after you die.
Should You Use U.S. Legal Wills?
As a threshold matter, Louisiana does not accept estate documents from this service. As any lawyer can attest, it’s not uncommon for Louisiana to be an outlier when it comes to legal issues and this is no different. While residents may get some educational value from U.S. Legal Wills, their documents will not be accepted as valid estate plans.
Beyond that, it boils down to your estate planning needs. On its own merits, U.S. Legal Wills offers a clean, well-designed product. If you want to use a template for creating standard estate documents, this is a good one to choose. The bigger question is whether you should use a template in the first place.
For customers using the site’s basic service, the answer is often yes. If you have a straightforward estate, there’s nothing wrong with using pre-written forms to make sure you address the technicalities. U.S. Legal Wills offers a good product for this.
Beyond the site’s basic service, however, the issue gets more complicated. If you need to establish a trust, manage complex assets, prepare for your own incapacitation or otherwise address complicated needs, in all likelihood you need to speak with a lawyer. This isn’t a problem with U.S. Legal Wills. No template or automated service is a good option for someone who has multiple or complicated needs.
What U.S. Legal Wills offers is an inexpensive, quick service that allows you to create estate documents for a fraction of the price that you would spend on a lawyer. But it cannot offer advice that applies to your specific legal situation.
U.S. Legal Wills is an online tool that helps you to draft estate documents. While people with complicated needs should see a lawyer, this is a good option for people with a straightforward estate.
Tips for Estate Planning
- When you’re planning out your estate it’s important to make sure you think through all of your assets and exactly how you want them to be protected. Getting the advice and help of a professional, like a financial advisor, can help you avoid mistakes. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- If you’re wanting to make an estate plan on your own then you’ll need to make sure you cross every “t” and dot every “i,” and a good start to that is checking out our estate planning checklist.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/PeopleImages, ©iStock.com/mapo, ©iStock.com/shapecharge