If you’re looking to get something done today, there are a bunch of online legal services that can help you create an official Will. If you’re the type that needs things to be 100-percent to your liking, hire an estate attorney or use an online service that offers actual legal advice from attorneys.
Ideally, you’ll want an estate attorney’s assistance to avoid any trouble down the road if someone contests it in court. However, we want you to have something in place, so don’t use finding the right attorney as an excuse for putting it off.
Quick and Basic
Online and software-based Wills have become quite common, allowing you to create one that covers all the bases (assets, beneficiaries, guardians, and an executor). Quicken WillMaker Plus is around $90 and also offers a whole host of other legal docs including a POA, Living Trust, and more. Then there’s FreeWill.com, LegalZoom, and so many others.
We could go on forever listing examples, and all these services offer pretty much the same thing. A user-friendly experience (for the most part) that walks you through the process, a nominal fee (some are free, others are well under $100), and an official document that only needs to be signed by you and two witnesses after you print it.
For The More Involved
If you have complex financial arrangements, such as overseas assets, elaborate investments, or Trusts, then you’re going to need some help. This means working with an attorney or an online service that offers advice from real lawyers. The best way to find an attorney isn’t much different than finding a good doctor, electrician, or dog walker. Get recommendations from friends, family, or other attorneys.
The cost can range from $300 for a simple lawyer-drafted Will, to $1,200 for something more involved. If you opt for an hourly rate it should range from $150-$200 -- keep your eye on the clock to keep it from costing way more than it should. Plus, after following all our Will tasks and making these decisions in advance, it should speed up the process and save you $$$.
The Final Step: Where Should You Keep It?
We’re not yet living in a world where digital Wills are pervasive and legal, but perhaps one day. For the time being, here are your best options:
Safe At Home. In your home in a personal safe, a locked filing cabinet, or any place you feel comfortable. If you store it in a location that requires a combination, password, or key for entry, you have to share that information as well or else it won’t be of much assistance when it’s needed (once again, store it with your passwords).
With An Attorney. Many estate attorneys, personal attorneys, and some financial advisors will be able to store your Will in a secure location in their office, making it a bonus to go this route. If you choose to store it with your attorney, include their info among your Financial & Legal Contacts and tell your family so they’re not tearing up the house looking for it.
With Your Executor: Since they’re in charge of making sure your Will gets executed, it makes sense to ask them if they’d be willing to safely store it for you. Then let your family or beneficiaries know the executor has it -- and include their info among your Personal VIP Contacts if it’s someone they may not know -- to avoid confusion and manic searching.
Digital Storage: To make sure your Will is easily located, upload a digital copy to the Legal section of an Everplan and share the exact location so your family isn’t scrambling around looking for it at the worst possible time.
What About A Safe Deposit Box? Nope! Do not store your Will in a safe deposit box, mainly because it presents a special kind of problem. Frequently a family needs access to the Will in order to get legal access to the safe deposit box. And if the Will is in the safe deposit box you've got the mother of all Catch-22's. Unless the box is jointly managed -- and your survivors are authorized to access it -- the bank will require a court order, which amplifies the misery.
Added Bonus: The Basics Of Probate
To give you an idea of how a Will actually works, here’s a very brief overview of probate court.
Step 1: The executor presents the Will to probate court.
Step 2: The probate proceedings can take anywhere from 3 months to years, depending on state laws, the complexity of the estate, and if any troubles arise. In short, get comfy. The executor can’t distribute property, sell assets, or pay off debts until the court grants approval.
Step 3: The court validates the Will. Now the executor can get to work and start paying off debts and handing out assets to the beneficiaries.
Of course it’s more involved than this, but if you have a solid Will you’ve done the best you can to help your family to get through the process as painlessly as possible.
Get your Will done. Give a free online version a whirl and you’ll realize it’s not nearly as difficult as most people think. Plus, if you find yourself getting tripped up you can reassess what you need and hit up an estate attorney online for assistance.