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    What are online will makers and are they legitimate?
    10-05-2021

    What are online will makers and are they legitimate?

    There is a worrying, overlooked phenomenon in the US in which well under half of American adults have a will. This article is going to discuss why this may change very quickly due to a new trend towards digital legal services - in particular digital will creation. The data source of this comparison will help us cover which are the best and worst companies, and when and when not to use them.

    Before exploring individual companies, we need to look at the product they’re all offering. Surprisingly, the federal and state laws surrounding wills are pretty clear, and conducive towards online wills. Bare in mind that licensed attorneys are making these digital legal products, even if they’re not running the companies.

    What is an online will?

    In short, an online will is essentially a digital way of planning an estate inheritance. It’s as legitimate as a physical will (though this isn’t to say there aren’t differences and limitations, as we will explain later), but it’s created on your computer or mobile. Whilst some are software the user must download, others are simply websites.

    They all work similarly: the user is presented with a blueprint document in which they fill in the gaps. The user answers (often from multiple choice boxes and the like) to which the programme then automatically produces the will.

    What are the benefits of an online will?

    The benefits of an online will are multiple. First and foremost, users do not have to take a trip to the attorney office and pay large amounts of money for their time. Instead, many online will makers propose that the will takes 15 to 30 minutes to create. On top of this, prices range from $15 up to $100, as opposed to a couple hundred bucks of a traditional will. This is perfect for those looking for a quick will in the face of a pandemic.

    This allows users to create their will at their own pace, in private, with no other influences. They can take their time, really think about their decisions in isolation, and stop and start as they please. If the user feels they’ve made a mistake or circumstances change, some online will makers allow for free revisions and alterations.

    Of course, it’s easier to compare the service you’re receiving with digital products, too. Most people won’t research their local legal office, and reviews are often few and far between. Compare this to online wills and you’re inundated with reviews, customer experiences, testimonials, and so on.

    What are the disadvantages of online wills?

    Online wills are starting to sound pretty perfect right now, but that’s far from the case. Being a very new industry, they lack the same level of regulation as traditional law offices. Partly because it’s harder to regulate the digital world, but also because many of these online will makers are essentially tech companies run by IT gurus, not legal experts. There’s no doubt that the major companies hire licensed attorneys and the product has been legitimized, but the company itself will never have the same level of credibility.

    Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier, the process of online will is somewhat dropdown box-style answers. There’s very little room for elaboration or nuance, meaning that online wills are only suited to those with smaller, simpler estates. This makes sense though, because someone with a large international company would likely spend more for a traditional lawyer to iron out the complexities.

    This isn’t an inherent issue, it’s a matter of demographic and who online wills are intended for. The bigger issue arises when wills are challenged in court - traditional wills will simply have more weight behind them because they’re witnessed by a lawyer. This is an issue when the subject has either mental health conditions or complicated family relations - two scenarios that can cause controversy and opposition to a will after death.

    Who are online will makers for?

    The biggest issue of under half of Americans having no will is that people tend to wait until they’re old before creating a will. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen and we’re all vulnerable - no matter how old we are. For this reason, wills should be created at an earlier age.

    This is the allure of online wills: those young enough to resist paying a lawyer $300 for a will can instead create a simple, easy one in an afternoon for $30 online. Of course, when they grow older and have different possessions, they can either update it or pay for a traditional one.

    Additionally, those who are feeling more vulnerable but still know how to use a computer may also benefit from online wills, so long as they have a simple estate and do not see a reason for their will to be challenged. This isn’t to say they have no chance of standing up in court upon being challenged, it’s just not optimal. And, if this is something you’re going to worry about, it may be worth spending more money on a traditional one for peace of mind.

    What online will makers do I have to choose from?

    There are hundreds of online will makers in the market right now, but given the importance of a will, you’re not going to want to experiment with trying an unproven startup. For this reason, we have compiled a list of five reputable companies that have a strong foothold in the market.

    US Legal WIlls

    US Legal Wills are a reputable online legal provider that have been operating since 2000. The company is grouped with Parting Wishes, which has exactly the same website and services. Being a tech company more than a law firm, there aren’t a vast array of legal services to choose from. This also has its own credibility challenges too, though it does pose some benefits.

    Generally, US Legal Wills is considered to be a great user experience. Will templates are customizable, wills are easy to amend, and updates are unlimited for 12 months. There is also a 30-day money back guarantee.

    Services offered:

    • Last Will and Testament: Yes

    • Living Will: Yes

    • Living Trust: No

    • Medical Power of Attorney: No

    • Financial Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Will Codicil: No

    • Attorney Support: Yes

    Pricing

    Last Will and Testament is $39.95, whilst a Living Will (Power of Attorney for Health Care) is only $19.95. This is incredibly competitive - despite failing to have an all-in-one package - and with the fantastic user interface, it’s clear to see why many opt for this tech firm over a more expensive digital law firm.

    NOLO

    Being founded in 1971, NOLO is arguably the oldest online will maker around. What this also tells us is that it started as a traditional law firm, proving itself and venturing into the digital world. Of course, whilst they are incredibly credible, this has meant they’re not quite a swift tech start up, and the fact you have to download software onto a desktop to use it is evidence of that, along with a poor, outdated website.

    Nevertheless, there are detailed instructions, and the benefit of being a software is that it can work offline too. A big advantage of using the software is that multiple users can use it, and it is relatively easy to use.

    As we can see, they provide all of the services below, along with an abundance of other legal products. As a result, they offer various packages and bundles of products.

    Services offered:

    • Last Will and Testament: Yes

    • Living Will: Yes

    • Living Trust: Yes

    • Medical Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Financial Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Will Codicil: Yes

    • Attorney Support: Yes

    Pricing

    Titled “Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2021”, their key software costs $99.99. Alternatively, a Living will and testament on its own will cost $59.99, which a Living Trust 2021 package can also be purchased for $79.99 which contains a Living Trust and Revocation of Living Trust.

    The pricing of Nolo is certainly higher than their tech startup counterparts, though you’re receiving a reliable service with possible attorney support.

    Trust & Will

    Trust & Will is the youngest company on this list, being founded in only 2017. Whilst this initially can make one flinch, they have done well to garner some credibility in their short existence thus far. With great customer reviews and an A+ BBB rating, many consider Trust & Will to be one of the largest, most effective will creators in the market.

    The entrepreneurial background of the founders has lent itself to a laser focus on customer satisfaction, automation, and ease of use - it takes all of 10 minutes to create a will. Another benefit is that the product is in the name - they’re specialised in wills, meaning they’re not spreading themselves too thin and pay sole attention to their will products.

    With Trust & Will, users get unlimited updates for a year, along with a free will print (emailed), and customized forms for different states. Like US Legal Wills, this is all completed on the web interface, but they have been criticized for poor customer service.

    Services offered:

    • Last Will and Testament: Yes

    • Living Will: Yes

    • Living Trust: Yes

    • Medical Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Financial Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Will Codicil: No

    • Attorney Support: Yes

    Pricing

    Wills begin at $89, which includes Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and both Powers of Attorney. However, for $499, a Trust plan can get you those plus a Living Trust. There are discounts for adding a spouse.

    LegalZoom

    LegalZoom is a credible company founded in 2001 by a group of four individuals, in which one of the four has a strong law background. LegalZoom set out to be a disrupter of the market, offering fast and effective will creation, a 60-day money back guarantee, and long hours of customer service.

    LegalZoom separates itself from Trust & Will by catering more to complex situations. Though the price is slightly higher, LegalZoom has much better than on-demand legal advice than most of the other providers on this list, meaning that there is some good attorney support. On top of this, users can make free revisions.

    Services offered:

    • Last Will and Testament: Yes

    • Living Will: Yes

    • Living Trust: Yes

    • Medical Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Financial Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Will Codicil: No

    • Attorney Support: Yes

    Pricing

    A Last Will and Testament on its own is $89, whilst a Living Will is $39. For $179, the user can receive a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and both Powers of Attorney - roughly double the price of Trust & Will for a similar package. This isn’t ideal for those looking for the cheapest option, but it does provide more nuance and a closer product to the one received in the traditional method.

    Rocket Lawyer

    Rocket Lawyer was founded in 2008 by Charley Moore and has built up a reputation of having strong legal experts with great customer service - and a fantastic form builder with intuitive design. Furthermore, Rocket Lawyer is a law firm at heart, with Charley Moore being an experienced attorney.

    Along with NOLO, Rocket Lawyer is one of few companies to offer all of the above services, proving them to be a one-stop-shop when it comes to wills. Also like NOLO, they’re one of few companies to have a dedicated app or software for the service.

    A significant downside for Rocket Lawyer is that there is no document storage once your subscription ends - so customers must remember to download and look after it themselves, which poses its own risks.

    Services offered:

    • Last Will and Testament: Yes

    • Living Will: Yes

    • Living Trust: Yes

    • Medical Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Financial Power of Attorney: Yes

    • Will Codicil: Yes

    • Attorney Support: Yes

    Pricing

    Rocket Lawyer is truly unique in its pricing structure. There are no one off fees for products, as instead there is simply a subscription service costing $39.99 per month. For this, you receive all of the above services, plus a pet guardian trust, free revisions, revocation of living trust, and more. Included in this price is a free 30-minute consultation with an attorney.

    Final Word

    All five companies chosen above have attorney support. This isn’t actually a given certainty when it comes to online will makers, but we considered it to be a vital prerequisite - even if you have to pay extra. This is because whilst some customers are confident in their isolated will creations, others need help, or simply reassurance, that their will is legitimate and accurate. This attorney support, which is usually a paid add-on service, helps bridge the gap towards traditional lawyers and mitigates some of the disadvantages of online law products.

    Furthermore, the pricing of each of the five companies does a reasonable job at reflecting the service you will receive. It could be argued that for LegalZooms $189 package, one could go to a lawyer’s office for not much more, making this package redundant. US Legal Wills are arguably the cheapest provider, but customer service and nuance will be lacking. Again, which one a customer opts for depends on their budget and needs, but NOLO, Rocket Lawyer, and Trust and Will offer a reliable middleground.

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