Are online wills legal, and how to make sure your will is valid

Are online wills legal, and how to make sure your will is valid
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Thanks to the internet, creating a will is easier now than it has ever been. Yet many people still wonder if online wills are legal, and want reassurance that the document they create is good enough to see their final wishes carried out as they want. Given the recent rise in DIY will making, they’re not unreasonable questions to have. However, if you follow the rules, and lay your thoughts down carefully, there’s little reason why using the best online will maker should not give rise to a valid will. 

A will created by yourself online will be legal, and just as valid as a will drafted by a legal professional, so long as it meets all the requirements of the state where it is executed. This makes finding out the rules specific to the state where you live a must.   

That said, there are some underlying rules that apply to almost any will, including those made online. 

  • Intent: The person writing the will - the testator - must have the intention that the document they produce will be their last will and testament, and that it will be effective in distributing their property when they die.
  •  “Of sound mind:” The need for the person creating a will to be “of sound mind” generally requires that they are at least 18 years old and understand that they are making a will. They will also be aware of the property they have to distribute and what it means to leave it to someone. 
  • Executed free from fraud, duress, undue influence, or mistake: This ensures the person creating their will is doing so voluntarily, and has not been coerced or tricked into making it, or to share their property in a particular way.
  • Signed and dated: This requires that the will be signed and dated by the testator before two disinterested adult witnesses who can vouch for the testator’s identity and state of mind (some states require three witnesses). Disinterested means the witnesses must not be beneficiaries of the will.  

Creating a will over the internet can be achieved in a number of ways, either through a website or software that you download, but the aim of producing the text of your last will and testament is always the same.

Step-by-step instructions will usually guide you through the process to ensure that you remain on course to create a will that is legitimate. In general, the following details will usually be required:

  • Your name and address
  • Relationship status and name of spouse (if applicable)
  • Names and ages of any children
  • Who should act as executor
  • A list or description of your assets
  • Specific bequests
  • Plans for the dispersal of any remaining assets

Assuming you complete all the steps as necessary, the website or software you’ve employed should allow for you to print a hard copy of your newly created will in preparation for the next steps required to make your will valid in the eyes of the law. 

The will that you have created will not be valid without your signature, and those of at least two witnesses. However, it must be considered that various states often have different rules around witnesses, including who can be a witness, how many witnesses are required, and how the witnessing should be executed. If they’re not followed, it is possible that your will not be deemed legal and could be dismissed in court. 

While laws do not require a will to be notarized, this is advisable to help make the process of proving the will - once it is required - much easier for your loved ones and beneficiaries in the future. However, as you might expect, notarization requirements vary state by state.  

Are online wills legal, and how to make sure your will is valid

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Thankfully, aware of the rule differences between states, will making programs usually supply instructions that will guide you on what to do to make a will legal based on where you are.

Once signed and witnessed, you will need to find someone - or somewhere - to keep your will safe. Always keep a copy within your own personal paperwork that will be easily found after you’re gone, while most people also provide a copy to someone that they trust from their family or even a beneficiary. Others leave a copy with their lawyer or file it at their local court. 

When not to use an online will

While making a will online is usually perfectly adequate for those with straightforward needs and a more modest estate, their DIY nature might fall short if you have far greater wealth to disperse and a more complex set of bequeathal requirements. In particular, this might be true if you have many properties to your name, own a business, or have worries about tax

In this instance, it might prove best to consult a professional estate planning attorney and make use of a service that can offer advice specific to you. You will of course pay more, but it will be money well spent to make sure nothing is overlooked and all potential scenarios are met. 

What else should you consider

While making a valid will is not always a pleasant topic to entertain, it is the sensible path to take if you want to make life a little easier for your loved ones should the worst happen. Similar peace of mind can be provided by the best life insurance, which can make sure your family is looked after financially upon your death, and final expense insurance, which will cover the costs associated with your funeral and burial. 

Tim Leonard

With over 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry, Tim has spent most of his career working for a financial data firm, where he was Online Editor of the consumer-facing Moneyfacts site, and regularly penned articles for the financial advice publication Investment Life and Pensions Moneyfacts. As a result, he has an excellent knowledge of almost areas of personal finance and, in particular, the retirement, investment, protection, mortgage and savings sectors.