Most North Americans simply do not have a will. It’s not something that’s often considered by young people, and many who are middle-aged put off creating one because of the pricey legal costs involved. But as we will soon find out, we can now create a will without a lawyer using DIY guides for a fraction of the cost.
This trend has emerged over the past few years. DIY wills are exactly how they sound – a will that you essentially create yourself, avoiding the time and costs associated with lawyers and meetings.
Different states and countries have different laws surrounding what makes a will credible. However, the common theme tends to be that there are very few requirements, besides a document being signed and witnessed. However, the document itself can be created at home, online, or in a legal office – it doesn’t really matter.
There may be some scenarios in which it does matter – such as creating a complicated will is difficult to do on your own – but there are no actual requirements stating a lawyer must facilitate or witness the will.
Thus, it’s very possible to create a will yourself. Whilst we could technically create the entire will ourselves, this may consume a lot of time – and would be a riskier approach in case you misused certain legal language. Instead, there are DIY will kit companies that sell templates for very affordable prices.
How credible is a DIY will?
Purchasing a DIY will template from a recognized company is a credible way to create a will. It isn’t inherently flawed, and it has proven to successfully facilitate accurate passing down of estate.
The templates aren’t void of any professional involvement, either. Most companies hire experienced attorneys to help carefully create the perfect template. They understand the importance of laymen because everyday people will be filling these in on their own. However, to be extra careful, there are usually help pages (or help boxes integrated into the GUI) that help explain each section.
Thus, users rarely get something wrong because it’s designed to be very simple. However, the only inherent flaw here is in fact their simplicity. Any complex scenarios that require nuance or complicated detail (i.e. estates with international business structures) often cannot be articulated within the confines of the DIY wills – they’re too risky to create on our own. Furthermore, if the will is suspected to be challenged in court – perhaps because of distant relatives or messy divorces – then a lawyer-backed will carry more weight during a dispute.
So, whilst in some scenarios a lawyer-backed will may be more foolproof and credible, the important thing to remember is that any will is better than no will – and that DIY wills aren’t inherently illegitimate. Thus, a DIY will is a great way to create a fast will in the meantime until you’re older, more vulnerable, or have the spare funds, to create a will with an experienced lawyer. Though, they should be avoided if the subject is in a complicated or controversial position when handing over an estate.
The benefits of avoiding lawyers
The key benefit of avoiding lawyers is the cost involved. In the US, people expect to pay between $300 and $1000 to create a will with the help of a lawyer. For many people, this is either unaffordable or seen as not worth it if they don’t feel vulnerable to needing a will anytime soon.
On the other end of the scale, an online DIY will usually cost between $20 and $80. This is up to ten times cheaper than hiring a lawyer and can, in most scenarios, achieve the same end result.
Of course, avoiding lawyers altogether is a bonus too. The time it takes to organize and attend a meeting is seen as somewhat inconvenient, particularly if you’re expecting to amend your will in the future.
Online wills on the other hand take all of 15 minutes to complete. They’re very short, clearly explained, and can usually be completed on the web on a smartphone – though some require dedicated software on a desktop PC or laptop.
Costs of templates – Free vs Paid
You may be thinking “why pay for a template?” – seeing as they’re replicable and fixed, it seems like something that could be done for free!
This is true, free DIY will templates do exist. They take the same amount of time to complete generally (10 minutes) and have a similar process. Again, they’re also legitimate too – though check with local laws to see about witnessing and other requirements.
However, it may still be worth paying the $20 to $80 that companies offer them for. The most important aspect of a will, which is something many do not think about, is the actual physical presence of the will. If no one can find it, what use is it?
A free DIY template can be completed and kept in a safe place, but it’s prone to get lost as it’s a physical copy. However, online DIY wills that we pay for tend to be saved on the database of companies, and having a cloud version is useful. It’s useful if we want to amend it in the future quickly and easily, and we know where to find it. Keeping a physical copy is still a consideration, but at least we have a centralized place to find the digital copy.
Furthermore, the online will companies are well-reviewed, tested and proven, and were created by lawyers. Whilst free ones may have also been created by professionals, it’s a little less of a guarantee. It’s also not a guarantee that it’s up-to-date – perhaps a law has changed and the template hasn’t been adjusted?
However, perhaps the most important reason to pay for your DIY will is that these online companies often offer support, unlike free downloadables. Whilst not all companies have good support, many will answer questions around completing the form to ensure accuracy, and some even offer professional attorney revision of the completed will.
The more support there is, the more you can be expected to pay. However, even for companies that involve professional revision and other support, the price tends to be still around $100 or below – far less than a traditional will.
What’s the best way for me to create a will?
Each person, scenario, and the estate is different. Generally, we always want to attain the cheapest price for our goods and services, but there are some scenarios where it’s worth paying extra for the traditional method. Here are some red flags and scenarios in which a traditional will is advised:
- Suffer from a mental health condition or risk being challenged on capacity grounds
- Complicated and controversial relationships with relatives and ex-partners
- Complicated estates such as international business or complex ownership structures
Many people aren’t included in any of these categories. Those that are of sound mind with amicable relationships and relatively normal estates can absolutely benefit from creating more simplified wills.
When opting for a DIY legal will, it’s best to opt for a paid DIY will with a reputable online provider that has good customer reviews. The only scenario in which a free DIY will should be created is if you cannot afford the paid versions – perhaps you’re on the poverty line and just need a free will to tie you over.
Something is better than nothing, which is something that many forget.