Writing a will can be scary, but don’t panic! Erin Lowry of Broke Millennial wrote her will online and walks you through each step.
As an unmarried 20-something woman with no kids, I thought: “Why on earth would I need a will?” But after a professor for one of my Certified Financial Planning courses shared some horror stories about what happens when people die without a will, I decided maybe I should just get it done.
The DIY Route to Writing a Will Online
Choosing the Site to Write My Will
My life is rather uncomplicated. I don’t own a house, car, or business. I don’t have children. I don’t have debt. Really, I just want a will to ensure someone inherits my life’s savings and someone takes care of my dog.
With all this in mind, I decided to forgo using a lawyer to draft up the first version of my last will and testament (as my life unfolds, I’ll certainly need to update my will).
Like any Millennial searching for a quick answer, I turned to Google and typed in “best options for online will”.
After a quick glance at all three sites, I settled on LegalZoom. I’ve used LegalZoom before when I trademarked my blog and found the site easy to use and the customer service attentive. Plus, the price tag wasn’t too bad.
Putting together a basic last will and testament with LegalZoom cost me $69.
Getting Started on My Will
Before I started filling out the questionnaire, I took a moment to think through the people (or organizations) I’d want to inherit my possessions. I did not need any legal documents or personal information, other than full legal name, for my beneficiaries.
LegalZoom offers the questionnaire used to create a will for free. If I decided against purchasing the will, I would only be out the time it took to fill in the blanks. From starting the questionnaire to submitting my credit card information (and calling customer service to reverse a charge after I accidentally also purchased a living will), the process took me about 45 minutes.
The process of creating a will with LegalZoom is relatively painless. The questionnaire form started by asking the state in which I reside, my marital status, whether I had children (minor or adult), grandchildren, owned pets, and if I owned a home or other real estate holdings.
Then it jumps into what I wanted to distribute and to whom. I needed to decide about general gifts, charitable gifts, and specific gifts—which includes jewelry, heirlooms, art, and then digital gifts (which is basically bestowing your iCloud to someone upon your death).
With a rather uncomplicated estate, I elected to divvy my assets among my family members, with a small portion going to my boyfriend because he’d inherit my dog if I met an untimely demise.
After a little deliberation over whether my sister should inherit more than my parents (because they don’t need my money), I moved on to charitable donations. LegalZoom provides a list of well-known charities to pick from, but I decided to leave some of my hard-earned money to my alma mater.
Specific gifts and digital gifts all went to my sister, but I was sure not to include passwords and login information in the will—which means I would need to then have a separate document with all my passwords and login information for my family to unseal when I die.
After distributing my assets, I was reaching the end of the will-making process.
Next, I had to pick a personal representative to distribute gifts (my dad with my sister as the secondary option).
I opted against a trustee because I don’t have minors inheriting anything, but I did fill out the final wishes section.
There’s no efficient, sensitive way to put this: “Final wishes” means what you’d like done with your remains.
After requesting to be cremated, I moved on to debating what to do with my dog. LegalZoom offers a pet protection agreement. For $39, I could have completely separate provisions for my dog. I opted against that and just named my boyfriend as the inheritor of the dog, and provided him with a portion of the estate to cover the cost.
After filling out all the information, I could also add a living will for $39 or Power of Attorney for $35. The standard last will and testament stayed at $69, which includes the ability to print at home, but for an extra $9.95 LegalZoom would professionally print and mail documents.
Get Familiar with the Estate Planning Process
In an effort to get my estate planning in order, I set up beneficiaries through Payable on Death (POD) and Transfer on Death (TOD) on all my accounts prior to crafting my will. In most cases, my POD and TOD will override my will because they are considered contractual—which usually supersedes a will. Some states do have laws that would allow inheritors to contest the validity of a POD in court, but these situations are rare. Because of my POD and TOD designations, my sister will actually stand to inherit more than she’s directed to receive in my will. She’s the beneficiary on all but one of my investments, sole beneficiary on one of my savings accounts, and shared beneficiary on the other. This means she’ll likely inherit more like 85 percent of my assets instead of the 50 percent that’s directed in the will.
If my beneficiaries on my investments and bank accounts were non-family, then I would need to better coordinate with my estate planning efforts. However, my parents won’t need to inherit any of my money for their financial well being, so overriding the will with beneficiaries poses no real problem or potential for family conflict. I’ve also explained the situation to everyone involved to mitigate any confusion.
After the will gets reviewed, it will be available for me to download and print. I will then need to sign it in front of witnesses and have them sign as well. While my specific will doesn’t require I use a notary, it’s still a good idea. Using a notary would mean my witnesses wouldn’t need to show up in probate court to testify that I, being of sound mind, signed my will. I plan to save a copy in my home and also provide a copy to my parents to keep on file. It’s also not a bad idea to have an attorney give a once-over to any will you prepare yourself. But at the moment, I feel secure knowing there’s a record of who should care for my dog and how I want my funds allocated. These steps should also simplify my loved ones’ lives by keeping my accounts out of probate court and forcing judges to make decisions about my assets.
Erin Lowry is a Millennial personal finance expert, speaker, and author of the book BROKE MILLENNIAL: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together. Based on the successful blog, the book is a choose-your-own-adventure guide to personal finance that uses wry humor and real-life examples to demystify the basics of money for Millennials. Lowry lives in New York City with her spunky rescue dog Mosby.
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