In general, two routes exist when creating a will: hiring an attorney who specializes in estate planning or writing a will online using software and templates. The second path is often used when someone has a more straightforward financial situation.
Either way, a will (or, more formally, a last will and testament) is an important legal document that makes it clear how you’d like your assets to be distributed after you die, and, if there are minor children involved, it can name the guardian. If you think creating an online will is right for your situation, read on for a step-by-step guide for how to write a will online.
Recommended: Do I Need a Will
8 Steps to Writing a Will Online
To legally make a will, the testator (the person making the will) must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind — meaning they are generally aware of how much property and other assets they have and understand what they’re signing. Assuming these conditions are met, here are the general steps to follow for writing a will online.
Step 1: Be Clear About Your State’s Laws
Each state has distinct laws when it comes to the number of people who must witness the will, whether the document needs to be notarized and more. Know what your state requires before you get started.
Additionally, if needed, be clear about whether your location allows for emergency remote witnessing and notarization during COVID-19. The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel is working to gather all of this information in one place for easy reference.
Step 2: Choose the Software You’ll Use
A quick Google search of terms like “how to do a will online” will provide you with plenty of template options. You might also consider asking friends and family members if they’ve used a software that worked well for them (or didn’t!).
Then, make comparisons among options before making a choice, paying attention to factors such as:
• Cost: Check pricing structures and fees. Some services will charge a flat fee for services rendered, while others may require a subscription to the site before you can make a will. What services are included in those fees? Which ones aren’t? Some sites have a yearly fee, which you may find worthwhile if the will is being reviewed one or more times a year by an estate planning attorney.
• Ease of use: Just like with any other DIY service, some companies will guide you through how to make a will online more seamlessly than others. Check to see how you can get answers to questions (and if there’s any extra cost for this). Some sites may offer online support or provide a phone number to call. Check, too, to see if the company offers information on estate planning basics.
• Company reputation: Only work with reputable companies. To investigate, you can read online reviews (understanding that virtually all businesses will have some unhappy customers), search for news coverage of the company and check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for any complaints about deceptive practices.
Recommended: How Much Does It Cost to Make a Will
Step 3: Name an Executor
After selecting a software, you’ll need to choose an executor, which is the person who manages the estate after the testator dies. Assets (what you own) and liabilities (what you owe) typically go into the estate, and it’s up to you to decide which assets to include in your will.
When you die, the executor is responsible for paying off outstanding debts and then appropriately distributing remaining assets to the beneficiaries, which are the people who receive assets from your estate as set out in your will. This process will include overseeing probate, a court-supervised proceeding where a will is confirmed as authentic, debts are paid off and assets get distributed.
Additionally, it is the executor’s duty to keep your assets safe before distribution and otherwise manage financial issues until the estate is closed.
You’ll typically want to pick someone you trust as your executor, such as a family member or even an attorney. You can also choose more than one person to serve as your executor.
Step 4: Decide How You Want to Distribute Assets
As part of writing a will online, you’ll list your beneficiaries and what they will receive. For example, you might leave 100% of your estate to a spouse or significant other. Or, you may leave one-third of your estate to each of your three children.
For each of your beneficiaries, list their full legal name, contact information, date of birth and what assets they should receive. Focus on who would inherit your house, cars, bank accounts and any other significant asset.
You may also decide to list a secondary beneficiary. This person (or people) would inherit your assets if the primary beneficiaries were to pass away before you do or otherwise won’t inherit. The will-making software may refer to secondary beneficiaries as contingent beneficiaries.
Also keep in mind that there are asset distributions that aren’t covered by a last will and testament — in other words, your non-probate assets. Accounts where you name beneficiaries outside of your will can include retirement or pension accounts, life insurance policies and certain bank accounts, among others. Because you’ve already named beneficiaries here, you won’t need to include these accounts in your will.
Recommended: Types of Wills
Step 5: Name a Guardian for Minor Children
In a will, you can also list who would take in your minor children (if any) in the event you were to die. This is an important decision, and you should verify that the guardian you plan to name would be willing to serve in this role.
This is also the area of the will where you can list specific wishes about how your child would be brought up, whether that’s related to religion or their education, and so forth.
Step 6: Follow State Laws to Sign Your Will
To make your will legal and binding, you’ll need to sign it according to your state’s laws. Typically, this means that you must sign the document in the presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries or direct relatives. As noted above, COVID has caused many states to modify their requirements, so check what applies to you.
Step 7: Let Key People Know Where Your Will Is Located
Knowing how to make a will online and appropriately completing the process is important — but the process doesn’t quite end there. You’ll also want to let the executor and other key people know where the document can be found. You can put it in a safe or store it electronically as two possibilities.
Recommended: New Parent’s Guide to Setting Up a Will
Step 8: Update Your Will As Necessary
Every few years, review your will to see if any updates should be made. Also review the document if you encounter any major life changes, including:
• Having a child or grandchild
• Getting married or divorced
• Becoming widowed
• Experiencing a substantial change in your finances (for better or worse)
• Developing significant health issues
• Moving to a different state
Also update your will if you want to change your beneficiaries or what they’ll inherit.
When wondering how to write a will online, these steps will take you through the process. Once you’ve chosen a software service that’s right for you and your will is created, make sure to store it somewhere safe (and that people know where that is) and that you continue to make updates to your will as your life continues to change and evolve.
To help with your estate planning, SoFi has partnered with Trust & Will, the leading online estate planning platform in the United States, so you can get a customized estate plan. Plus, if you have questions, Trust & Will offers U.S.-based support seven days a week. Even better, SoFi members will receive 10% off of their will, trust or guardianship estate plans.
Photo credit: iStock/monkeybusinessimages
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.