When you become a parent, you become a caretaker, a steward of your family. Part of that immense responsibility includes preparing for a time when you will no longer be around. Parents, and fathers in particular, are expected to have everything handled, to leave no loose ends when they’re gone. That’s why estate planning is so important. The process of getting all your affairs in order — writing a will, explaining what you intend to hand down, who will be the guardians for your children — makes sure everyone is taken care of when you’re gone.
Estate planning is crucial. It offers peace of mind. But many shrug it off as a non-necessity. In fact, only four out of every ten Americans have any plans for their future. There are a number of reasons for this, some logical (the estate planning process, which includes lawyers and decisions and money, seems overwhelming) others less so (If I prepare for my death, I will die, the thinking goes). There are also far more complicated reasons, including bad past experiences with parent’s estates.
In addition, many parents believe that when they die, everything will just be figured out. (Consider Andrew, a father who told us “I don’t care what happens after I die. And I should not have a say in what other people do after I’m dead. They can figure out what they want, I won’t want anything because I’ll be dead.”) This logic is extremely dangerous, as when you die without a will— what’s known as “intestate” — your property will be divided up according to the laws of your state. Those vary wildly. At the very least, this will create headaches and complications for your surviving family members, leading to conflict as everyone tries to divvy up your estate equitably.
In short, it’s in every parent’s best interest to get everything sorted. The good news is that it’s even less complicated to make this happen thanks to the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, which passed earlier this year. According to a statement from the Uniform Law Commission, which approved the Act, the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, “permits testators to execute an electronic will and allows probate courts to give electronic wills legal effect. Most documents that were traditionally printed on paper can now be created, transferred, signed, and recorded in electronic form.”
In other words? You can complete your estate planning — writing a will, deeming guardians — almost entirely online.
As necessity is the mother of invention, there are now several companies that specialize in online estate planning, including Trust & Will, Willing, Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, Do Your Own Will, and US Legal Wills. These companies allow you to legally and legitimately file estate plans, trusts, and wills online quickly and comparatively inexpensively.
Cody Barbo, founder and CEO of Trust & Will said that the genesis for his company came from his own dilemmas when considering estate planning for his family.
“In my mind, door number one was go to an attorney and spend thousands of dollars on something that seems far too complex for my wife and I at this stage in our life,” he says. “And door number two was to go to an online legal marketplace and get something really off the shelf that wasn’t going to be a recurring experience.”
Trust & Will, which he created to fill that need, offers a grid of options, from “I own a home and business” and “I have more than $100k in assets” to “I’m married” and “I have kids under 18”. Select what apply to you and you’ll be met with a recommended plan. The “Guardian” plan for instance allows parents to name who the guardian of their children will be if something were to happen to the both of them. That costs $49 and can be filled out in less time than one of those “What Does Your Preferred Grilled Cheese Say About You?” quizzes. Once you’ve finished and paid, you print the document, get it signed and notarized, and you’re good to go.
There are myriad options, however. Choose “Marriage” and “Kids Under 18” from the categories and it will present you with a Will-based Estate plan that costs $129. Choose it, and you can customize a last will and testament that includes state-specific legal documents.
This isn’t to say that the many, many estate planning decisions parents need to make any less daunting. The estate planning process requires big choices. But having the paperwork available online does streamline the homework portion of it.
Barbo sees his company as a necessary step in the business of estate planning, and one that needs to happen if the industry is going to remain competitive in an age where nearly every facet of people’s lives exist in digital space. Trust & Will is there to make it so that parents don’t need to take off work, coordinate schedules, and deal with all the paperwork the standard process requires. It also makes it harder to find an excuse for not doing it.
As a father, Barbo admits that the reasons for putting off estate planning are very real and understandable. He does hope, however, that Trust & Will will help demystify the process a bit and make it feel less threatening.
In addition, he hopes that parents will keep in mind the biggest reason for embarking on this process. “You’re doing it for your kids,” he says. “It’s a selfless act of love that you’re doing this for your family and to preserve your legacy.”
Here are some additional will writing and estate planning services that allow you to write your will online.
Will & Trust makes the whole process pretty simple, thanks to a nice offering of tools and services as detailed above. Users can make a will-based estate plan starting at $69; prices increase for such measures as adding a spouse, guardianship, or trusts, the latter of which begins at $399 because it’s far more complex. The wills created are state-specific and HIPAA authorized. Plans come with a year of updates and there’s a handy chatbot that helps walk users through the process. For most people, the process takes 15 minutes.
First users of this will writing service must answer a quick questionnaire online to see if the tool will work. If it does, the whole process is rather simple. Nice features like an online learning center help answer common questions, orient users, and guide them to the best final documents. The price is right, too: To compose a last will and testament, living will, and power of attorney, the cost is $69.
Legal Zoom is one of the more expensive options here, but it is also one of the more complete. It offers a basic last will and testament starting at $89. Prices go up for additional clauses and complexities, but the cost includes simple software as well as a team of attorneys via the customer support line. Answer questions to get started to determine what type of estate planning is best for you and fill-in details that are pertinent to your situation to figure out a plan that makes the most sense for you family.
To access the will creation services, users must subscribe to Rocket Lawyer. The fee begins at $10 per month, and the software is included. But it is by far one of the most robust offerings online. Users can make as many revisions as possible, create a number of additional offerings such as power of attorney and living wills, and a 30-minute free consultation with an attorney.
By far the most inexpensive option, this service, well, allows you to do your own will for free. Answer a few questions and a create a will that you can download as a .pdf. Users can name an executor, describe the distribution of assets, While the price is certainly right — and Do Your Own Will offers a nice array of estate planning info — it’s not at all meant for complicated estate planning. And, unlike other services, there are not experts to call up if you need help.