With costs as low as $10, making a will doesn’t have to be expensive, but you may want to spend more to get exactly what you need. Granted, the prospect of writing a will can feel boring, morbid, and as if it will be a big drain of time and money. While there’s no doubt that thinking about a world without you on it isn’t “fun,” the peace of mind that people can obtain from making a will, the right will, can be invaluable. Whether you choose to go with an online template that will guide you through the how-to’s of creating a will or work with an attorney, it’s important to know your options. Let’s dive into that now and see how much making a will costs and which approach is best for you.
How Much Does it Cost to Make a Will?
The cost of a will varies from free to thousands of dollars, depending on whether you do it yourself or work with an attorney. Some people with a fairly straightforward situation (basic assets, one child) may find that an online template provides everything they need at a low cost. In general, however, people with high-net-worth or a complex personal situation, such as needing to provide for a disabled family member, may find it advantageous to work with an attorney.
You may wonder if you need a template at all. Can’t you just take pen to paper to share your wishes? In some states, the answer is yes: A handwritten will is legal. But there are good reasons to not write up a will on a piece of notebook paper. Not only can these take longer to go through probate — a legal process that vets the validity of a will — but a template may help make sure all bases are covered and legally valid.
There are templates online that are free, but some that are state-specific and go into greater depth (say, by guiding you through more questions about your situation) may cost from $40 up to over a hundred dollars.
If you work with an attorney, you may pay $1,000 or more to create a will. But working with an attorney may be beneficial if you have a complex situation. For example, an attorney can help you create a trust, which can be one way to avoid probate and may provide tax advantages for your heirs. They may also have recommendations for the most tax-advantageous way to set up a will and can also answer any questions that may come up as you make the will.
Recommended: How to Make a Will: 7 Steps
Regardless of how you create a will, it’s also important to ensure that your will is legal in your state. This may mean having the will notarized or witnessed when you sign. It can also be a good idea to make several copies of the will, and let your executor know where the will can be found.
You also may need to update your will. You can do this via a codicil (this is akin to a PS to your will), but in many cases, it may make sense to create an entirely new will to avoid confusion. You may consider updating or redrafting your will whenever a major life event occurs, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a new child. If you’re working with a lawyer, ask them how they will handle potential changes and how much they will charge.
The Cost to Have a Lawyer Write a Will
Having a lawyer write a will may be the most expensive option at $1,000 or more depending on where you live and the complexity of the will. However, this path can have its benefits.
Creating an Estate Plan
Working with a lawyer can ensure you cover all bases and potentially create an estate plan. This can maximize tax-savings opportunities for your heirs. As part of this, a lawyer can be helpful in setting up a trust. A trust can be a tax-advantageous way to distribute assets upon your death and help avoid the possibly long and winding process of probate.
Recommended: Estate Planning 101: The Basics of Estate Planning
Negotiating a Large or Complicated Estate
You also may want a lawyer if you have a large or complicated estate, with a variety of assets, which could be investments, real estate and the like. Also, if you have a complicated family situation, a lawyer can be very helpful in creating a will that addresses these situations. In this case, scenarios include divorce, remarriage, step-children, or complex (possibly contentious) relationships.
Developing End of Life Documents
When drawing up a will, a lawyer also can make sure that you have all end-of-life documents in place. While “will” can be used as a catchall term for end-of-life documents and directives, other important documents can include:
• A medical power of attorney
• A living will or advanced healthcare directive
• Do-not-resuscitate orders
All of the above documents reflect what would happen if you were no longer able to advocate for yourself and needed someone to make medical decisions for you.
Before you work with a lawyer, make sure you’re clear on the fee structure: Will they charge by the hour? How much will it cost to update things in the future? Is there anything you can do on your own to help save money?
Cost Of Writing a Will Yourself
Online templates range from free to several hundred dollars, depending on the complexity and the range of documents provided. Online templates can help guide you through itemizing your assets and can be simple to update if necessary. Here are some details to note:
Online Templates Can Offer a Speed Advantage
Online templates may advertise that wills can be completed in 15 minutes or less. This can be true as long as you have relevant information at your fingertips. Prior to beginning a will (either online or with a pro), it can be helpful to itemize assets and discuss guardianship and executor plans with the people you hope to name prior to starting. This will make the process run more smoothly.
Online Templates May Need Witnessing
Once an online template is filled out, it will likely need to be signed and witnessed to be made legal. Keep this in mind: If you are thinking you can complete your will 100% online and don’t need to leave your home, you may be in for a surprise.
Some online services offer attorney services for an additional cost. This can be a hybrid option that allows you to have a lawyer answer any specific questions while doing the majority of the work yourself.
Recommended: What Happens If You Die Without A Will?
What’s the Difference Between a Trust and a Will?
You may see the terms trust and will used interchangeably. That’s wrong; a trust is not a will! A trust is a customized estate planning tool that can be helpful to heirs in addition to a will. If you hold assets such as real estate or have a positive net worth, a trust may make sense.
A trust can help your heirs:
• Avoid probate, the legal (and sometimes lengthy) process in which property is distributed
• Potentially limit tax implication of any gifts or inheritances
Trusts can be complex, but a fairly simple trust can be created through online templates. Having a trust can help ensure that your assets not only go to the people you intend them to go to, but that your heirs are provided for exactly in the way you intended. The time spent making the trust can pay off in peace of mind, both for you right now and for your heirs in the future.
Recommended: What Is a Trust Fund?
Does a Will Need to be Notarized?
You’ve taken the time, created a will, and printed it out. You’re done, right? Not so fast! A will usually does need to be signed and watched by a witness.
What’s more, while a will does not always need to be notarized to be valid, it may be in you and your beneficiaries’ best interests to do so. When a will is notarized, it is considered “self-proving,” which helps confirm that you had the mental capacity to create the will and were not under any duress. It proves the validity of the document and therefore can help avoid probate. Notarizing a will is typically a fairly minor expense of up to $15.
While it can be tempting to put off the notarization process (we know, it can be a hassle to find a notary nearby), getting it done immediately ensures that there are no loose ends if the worst were to happen unexpectedly. It can also be a good idea to make sure the will is printed out and put in a safe place, like a bank safe, and that your executor knows where to find it.
What Should You Never Put in a Will?
There are some things you want to sidestep when creating a will. Here are some considerations that can make the probate process more difficult.
• Certain types of property, including property owned jointly, life insurance, or other accounts with a beneficiary already named.
• Specific funeral or end of life wishes. The will may not be read until weeks or months after death.
• “Rules” about who gets what. A will is not the place to put limitations on gifts, such as money only being available if someone were to marry or turn a certain age.
• Providing money to pets. However, you can set up a trust to ensure that a pet is provided for.
• Provisions for taking care of a dependent beneficiary. These kinds of long-term care needs can also best be set up in a trust.
In short, a will can’t cover all the what-ifs, but in many cases, a trust can do so. If you’re not sure how to appropriately manage your estate, consider consulting with a lawyer.
Creating a will does not need to be expensive or time-consuming to be valid. While a trust may make sense for complex needs or if you have a positive net worth, having a will drawn up in the short term can cover your bases, ensure guardianship wishes are met if you have kids, and provide peace of mind now and in the future. Whether you spend $10 or over a thousand dollars creating one, if you have assets and/or dependents, now is a good time to act!
Protection You Can Trust from SoFi
Wills and estate planning are important steps in managing your financial and legal life. But while you’re thinking about these topics, why not also make sure you are protecting yourself and your loved ones in other ways? SoFi works with some top-notch, reliable partners to bring you auto, homeowners, renters, and life insurance policies. Come take a look at how easy and affordable we’ve made these.
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