Estate Planning Guide
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Do-it-yourself wills online

If you have the answers to the online questions at your fingertips, the will can be completed quickly, often in fewer than 30 minutes, which makes this an easy alternative. With an attorney, you'll spend time in a face-to-face meeting and then pay for the time it takes for preparation of the document. For this, some lawyers charge by the hour while others seek a flat fee.

Privacy can be a factor for some individuals. Some people just don't want to discuss their dying wishes and health care directives with a complete stranger.

"If you feel uncomfortable talking in person with someone about personal issues, online might be the way to go," says Margolis. "However, attorneys are required to keep your personal business confidential, too."

According to the ABA, it doesn't endorse any online will-writing sites. It also doesn't take an official position concerning online will sites.

Disadvantages of online wills

One of the biggest drawbacks to an online will is that a professional hasn't reviewed the documents, says Granat. If that worries you, hire an attorney to review what you have done online. He should be current on any new laws in your state.

However, a law could have changed without the online site updating its information. It's also possible that the online form you choose may not be the right one for your situation.

"You are buying something without a warranty, as is," says Granat. "If there's something wrong with it, even with one small mistake, you're taking a risk. But if a lawyer drafts the will, he stands behind his documents."

Dot the i's and cross the t's

Following the instructions on the site carefully, signing the will correctly and having it witnessed properly all work toward making it hold up legally, says Margolis. Signing and witnessing requirements vary from state to state, so make sure you do what your state requires. Wills can be challenged if there's a mistake or an ambiguity.

"Although you know what you want the will to say, it may not be clear to the reader," Margolis says. "And if you take a standard will form and insert your own language, that's a mistake."

When searching for an online will-writing site, look for one that stands behind its documents and will give you a total refund if you're not satisfied. Determine if lawyers are involved in the site and how long the site has been in existence. This is often stated in the "about us" section of a Web site, but you can also call and ask.

Other documents, including a health care proxy or power of attorney, a living will and "power of attorney with durable provision," should also be available and either included in the cost or for an added fee. According to Granat, you need all these documents, not just the will.

Compare the online sites' options and costs. You may want to choose the one that costs the most, says Margolis. "You'll usually get more if you pay more," he says.

Online will-writing sites haven't been around long enough to test their rate of success. According to Granat, they won't know until the customers who purchased these products die as to whether this is a smart way to handle a will.

Still, Granat says, "Any will is better than no will at all, providing that the will you get is appropriate for your particular circumstances."

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