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Can I do estate planning online?

Here's what you need to know if you are considering whether to use online estate planning tools.

evident Editorial Team
published
September 30, 2021
Man's hands on keyboarad making estate plan on computer.

The short answer is yes, you can make a basic estate plan online and save yourself time and money by doing so. If you choose this route, there are numerous online tools that help with creating estate planning documents.  

But you’ll want to consider your circumstances before taking the digital route. For many people, hiring an estate planning attorney is worthwhile, so here’s what to know as you consider your options.

Key Takeaways

Should I do estate planning online?

A threshold question is how large and complicated your estate is. If your estate plan is simple, online estate planning tools may be the right choice for you. If you have a more complex estate plan that involves numerous beneficiaries and substantial assets, you most likely want to hire an estate planning attorney.

Any mistake in your estate planning documents can negatively impact the distribution of the estate. For example, if your will is found to be partially or entirely invalid, your estate would be distributed according to state laws without regard for your last wishes.

DIY Online Estate Planning Software

There are various “Do-It-Yourself” online software programs that can help create important estate planning documents. These programs can provide you with a template to input the relevant details of your estate plan. This article will cover the four main documents of an estate plan, including:

  1. Wills
  2. Trusts
  3. Powers of attorney
  4. Health care directives

Wills

Online software tools can help you make a basic will including:  

  • Naming an executor for your estate; 
  • Naming guardians for your children;
  • Deciding who will inherit your property; and 
  • Naming beneficiaries for any other assets

When using online software to create a will, ensure the program clearly explains each step in the process. You also want to make sure you read over your final will carefully and that the language is entirely clear to you. 

The cost of making an online will can range from $20-$100. If you’d like to create multiple estate planning documents, some services offer estate planning bundles based on a subscription fee. 

Living Trusts

Using an online trust software could cost you $70 on average, and creating a living trust online can be as simple as the process for preparing a will online. The main difference is the added step of actually following through and transferring your assets into the trust. 

When making a living trust online, use a program that guides you through the process and is easy to understand. You’ll want to be clear on which assets you will include in the trust, the names of your beneficiaries, and the person you will appoint to be your succeeding trustee. (Note - A successor trustee is the person who steps in to administer the trust when you can no longer do so). 

Although you can make a living trust online, your financial situation can help determine if you should get help from an attorney. If you find yourself in these circumstances, seek advice from an attorney:

  1.  If you do not have someone to name as a trustee, you should not try to make a trust online. Your trustee should be a person you can rely on to control your assets. You should seek advice from a lawyer if there is no one you trust for the position. 
  2. Additionally, you should consult an attorney before making a trust if you have significant debts. Distributing your assets through a trust can make paying creditors more difficult, so seek advice from an estate planning lawyer if you have concerns about debt 
  3. To place conditions on the gifts in your trust, you should get an estate planning attorney’s help. One example might be if you’d like a gift to be provided only once the beneficiary reaches a certain age. 
  4. If you think you could owe estate taxes, hire an estate planning attorney for help. Estate taxes will need to be paid for estates that are worth more than $5,000,000. Most estates do not pay estate taxes, but if you find yourself in this category, be sure to get legal advice from an estate planning lawyer.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney (or POA) allows you to designate someone to make decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make them yourself. There are various types of POAs, such as Medical, Financial, and General, depending on what aspect of your affairs you want help managing. 

Using a quality online program can help you create your own powers of attorney document. When creating a power of attorney document online, carefully consider the arrangement's purpose and who you want to name as your agent. Needless to say, this is a big decision

Health Care Directives

A health care directive designates someone to make your health decisions for you when you are unable to express your health care preferences. Health care directives are less likely to require help from an attorney to prepare.  

State laws regarding health care directives vary, and so do the forms involved or what they are called. For instance, some states use separate forms which may be referred to as a Health Care Power of Attorney, or Health Care Proxy, and Living Wills or Advance Directives. Other states allow you to include all the relevant information in a single document. 

So, when making a health care directive document, you’ll want to use online programs that are specific to your state and clearly explain your options.

When should I hire an attorney?

Throughout the do-it-yourself process, if you have any concerns about your estate plan, consulting with an estate planning attorney can be helpful. If you’ve created documents online but feel you need more guidance, an estate planning lawyer can help round out your estate plan to fit your needs. 

Additionally, if you created an estate plan using online tools but find that your needs have changed, you should hire an attorney to revisit your estate planning documents.

Getting Started with Online Estate Planning

When creating an estate plan online, preparation can help make the process easier. To get started, begin thinking about the loved ones you’d like to include in your estate plan, as well as a trusted individual to serve as the executor of your estate. 

Next, you’ll want to document all of your assets and any debts that you may have. Thinking about your financial situation can help determine the estate planning steps you should take. 

You’ll also want to consider the goals of your estate plan. There are various priorities that you might have for your estate plan, such as naming guardians for your children or deciding how to distribute your assets. 

Towards the end of the estate planning process, whichever online program you use should make you aware of the final steps to complete and implement your estate plan. These can include transferring assets, opening financial accounts, or changing beneficiaries. 

To authorize your estate plan, you will need to sign the documents, and your state’s laws may require that you sign in front of a notary. Be sure to safely store any of your estate planning documents once they are executed.

The final word on handling estate planning online

Estate planning software can help you create a basic estate plan quickly and at a reasonable price. Online programs are particularly helpful for those with simple estate planning needs. But with a larger or more complicated estate, an online software program probably won’t fully address all of your estate planning needs. 

Before you decide to pursue a do-it-yourself option, consider your financial circumstances and the components you want to include in your estate plan. Whether you choose the digital route or hire an estate planning attorney, it is essential to create an estate plan to ensure your wishes are followed and your legacy is protected.

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