This question leads to a number of further questions:
- What exactly is a Will?
- Why are some Wills free?
- Why do some Wills cost $1,000?
- How much should a Will cost?
- What about online Will services?
- Why do Wills at USLegalWills.com cost $39.95?
We will address all of these questions and more in this article.
What exactly is a Last Will and Testament?
A Will is a piece of paper that firstly states that the document is indeed your Will. It usually makes key appointments, for example an Executor who has the responsibility to carry out the instructions in your Will. It then goes on to describe the distribution of your “estate” (everything that you own).
Your estate is made up of bank accounts, real estate, investments, possessions and even family heirlooms. These are your “assets”. There are strategies for moving assets out of your estate, and there may be some good reasons for doing this. I’ll explain that later in the article.
The distribution of your assets can be done either as a specific “bequest” e.g. “I leave $1,000 to my nephew James Green”, or as a percentage of the estate “I leave 10 percent of my estate to St Luke’s Church at 123 Main street”. Or even simply shared between people “I leave my estate in equal shares between my three children, John, Susan and Daphne”. Or any combination of these instructions.
According to current law, a Will must be written on a piece of paper and then signed at the end. It usually has to signed in the presence of two witnesses, unless the entire document is written in your own handwriting (a “holographic Will”). Some States allow this type of document to not be witnessed. But it’s not a strategy that you should use unless you are in a very desperate situation.
Video Wills, electronically signed Wills, verbal promises are not under current laws accepted as a legal Will (spoken Wills are in very rare circumstances accepted by about 20 States – a “nuncupative Will”, but again, this wouldn’t apply to most of us).
A Will must be an originally signed piece of paper. Faxed, photocopied, scanned or otherwise digitized Wills are not readily accepted by the courts unless it can be proven that the original was accidentally lost or destroyed. This can be a long drawn-out process.
So, this is a Will. A 5-6 page document that makes key appointments and describes the distribution of your things.
Why are some Wills free?
Let us start with the totally Free Last Will and Testament. There are a few different ways that a Will can be free.
The Blank form Will “kit”
If a Will is nothing more than a piece of paper that makes key appointments and describes the distribution of your things, you can see how a blank form Will kit could be free.
Although this is the bare minimum required to make a legal Will, it is grossly inadequate. Well drafted Wills to much more than the bare minimum and even a “simple Will” does much more than this if it is written correctly.
We have seen many free and cheap Do-it-yourself Will kits and they are invariably going to cause problems; not so much for you, but for your loved ones who will be left sorting out a horrible mess.
The final question on this page asking you to describe the powers of the Trustee is impossible to any layperson to complete. So although you may have legally prepared a Will, you could easily write one that makes no sense.
The free online Will service
Some services have been set up that guide you through the process of writing your own Will, and this may give you a better final product. But by giving the service away free, they either must have no legal team, development or customer support teams, or they are generating revenue in a different way. Most commonly, this is by selling your personal data to third parties like insurance companies or funeral services.
What do you get with a $1,000 Will?
If you have your Will prepared by an estate planning attorney you are getting legal advice on your Will, and estate planning strategies for your assets.
Receiving Legal Advice for your Will
If you are writing a Will to leave everything to your spouse, and in the event that you are both involved in a common accident, everything will go to your children. You probably don’t need legal advice to write a Will.
Even if you need to name a guardian for your children and set up trusts for minor beneficiaries, you probably still don’t need legal advice to prepare a Will.
If however, you need a custom clause, or you have doubts over the legality of what you are trying to do, then you should seek legal advice. If for example you had a child with special needs who is receiving government grants, and you don’t want their inheritance to affect their benefits, then you may need a particular type of trust set up, and for this you would need legal advice.
It is sometimes difficult to know whether or not you need to pay for the expertise of legal training, but if you do think that you would need a custom legal clause written, then it is worth paying the extra to have a trained legal professional write your Will. In our experience over ninety five percent of people do not need legal advice in writing their Will.
Estate planning strategies
Sometimes an estate planning attorney can provide you with more than just a Will. In particular there are ways of avoiding or reducing probate fees when organizing your estate. This may or may not be useful to you, because in some States probate fees are way less than the legal costs of avoiding the fees. But if your estate is very large, and you need some tax planning, then an estate planning attorney can help.
The most common strategy is the creation of a Revocable Living Trust as a way of moving your assets outside of your estate so that they are not included in the calculation of probate fees. Other strategies include “Transfer on Death” designations for accounts, as well as beneficiary designations on registered investments and insurance policies.
However, some of these strategies can also be accomplished by writing your own Will and using a tax specialist.
How much should a Will cost?
You can definitely underpay for a Will, and you can certainly overpay for a Will.
Even if you are using an estate planning attorney, if your situation is straightforward and you are not receiving estate planning advice, then you should definitely not pay more than about $400 for a Will.
Most lawyers use estate planning software to write a Last Will and Testament. You will be asked to complete a form in the reception area of the office, and a member of staff will enter this information into the software. The lawyer will check it over, but it really does not demand years of legal training to prepare this type of Will.
What about online Will services?
There are a growing number of online Will services that essentially give you direct access to this software. They put a consumer friendly front-end to it, but allow you to prepare your own Will. In most cases, the final result would be word for word identical to one prepared by a lawyer.
These services range in price from about $40 to $100 to prepare a Will, and usually have a variety of options including additional pricing to update your Will on an ongoing basis.
The services have over the years become more and more sophisticated in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the pack. Something that traditional law firms haven’t been inclined to do. So some online services offer options like uploading important documents to a secure vault, documenting assets for your Executor, and other value added options.
But the key advantage to these services is that they are incredibly convenient. You can write your Will at any time day or night from the comfort of your own home. If you need to make changes, you just login to your account, and in a few minutes your Will is updated to reflect any new circumstances, or changes of intentions.
Why do Wills at USLegalWills.com cost $39.95?
We have set our pricing based on our costs to bring the service to you, and our relative value in the marketplace.
Our costs fall into five categories. In order of the amount we spend, these are; Software development, customer support, legal consultation to develop new services, advertising, and business overheads (insurance, administration, office costs).
We are continually innovating to bring the absolute best service to you. We are the only Will writing service that offers a digital vault to upload important files for loved ones. We also have a LifeLocker service that can be used as an Executor handbook. We have developed a proprietary Keyholder system to make sure that the right information gets to the right people at the right time and not before.
Even within the Will service itself, we are the only online Will service that has a special section on charitable bequests. We are the only service to support lifetime interest trusts for blended families, and the only service that allows you to cover assets held outside of the US.
But what sets us apart is the amount that we spend on customer service. We do not outsource our customer service and train extensively every single team member. We reward our customer service team so that they do not want to leave. As a result the average amount of time each customer service member has been with us is over ten years. Why do we do this? Because we love our five star Google rating.
It’s also worth noting that all of our revenue comes from the sale of our services. We do not sell your personal data to any third party, and we do not sell advertising on our platform.
It turns out that even though we are the most complete online Will service, with the best customer service and the best ratings, we are also the most affordable. We do not spend as much on advertising as some of our more expensive competitors, and it’s clear that we are less well known than other major service providers because of this.
But I would encourage you to give our service a try. The whole process takes about 20 minutes and costs $39.95. Click this link to get started and write your Will right now.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of USLegalWills.com.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets, and has contributed to articles in The New York Times, NY Metro Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and other leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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