I Used a $28 Groupon to Create a Will. Here’s What an Attorney Had to Say
After years of procrastination, I recently looked death in the face and made a will.
I used a website called Willing, after seeing it advertised on Groupon. That’s right: I bought a will through Groupon. It took me 15 minutes to fill out.
As a single woman with few assets, I assumed my life would be simple to convert into a document to guide my family in the event of my untimely demise.
Plus, the Groupon was $28. What did I have to lose?
How to Get a Cheap Will Without Talking to Anyone
Some online legal services allow you to create a will or full estate plan online with the option to consult an attorney through the site.
But Willing’s service is completely automated, so there’s no chance of getting lured into paying for add-ons. Your $69 (the non-Groupon rate) will buy you a last will, a living will and a durable power of attorney.
Michael Delgado, general counsel at Willing, said that in addition to researching laws affecting wills for every state, the team reviews real wills that have been filed in court. Those documents help them identify potential roadblocks for clients and likely challenges the software must avoid.
Why a low-cost automated system over a relationship with a local attorney? Delgado said that for many people, access to affordable legal services is a nonstarter. Building an online tool reduces barriers for people of any age who don’t yet have a will. In many cases, “We’re taking someone in who doesn’t know anything, and empowering them,” he said.
Making my will through Willing felt like filling out sophisticated Mad Libs.
Answer a question, choose a circumstance, fill in a name. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Typing in someone’s name once allows you to choose them from a drop-down menu the next time you need to identify a person to take over part of your estate.
Minutes later, I downloaded a file containing the draft of my will, along with instructions for getting the document notarized and signed by witnesses. The software had done 95% of the work for me, but it would be on me to complete the process and solidify my will’s status as a legal document.
This fall, thanks to a law change in Nevada, the company will start offering online witness signatures and notarization.
But before sealing the deal, I sat down with an estate lawyer.
Here’s What an Estate Attorney Thinks of My Online Will
When I asked attorney Sandra Diamond, who has practiced estate planning law in Florida since 1981, to review my document, she admitted she was curious about online wills.
When I arrived at her office, she had already marked up the copy I sent her.
First, she pointed out some of the good elements in my will: My document asserted that I was of sound mind and memory (heck yes) and that this will would revoke any other wills I had made in the past (LOL — other wills). It identified specific ways that my executor could act in the best interest of my estate.
But she circled a few items that gave her pause. One was the way I would deliver my (limited) assets.
I had designated my retirement account to go to two family members. How very nice of me. Except Diamond said that a will doesn’t override the beneficiary, or beneficiaries, listed on the account itself. I could list someone in my will to take over my personal property, but if the title on the property doesn’t match what’s in the will, the beneficiaries listed on the title get the goods.
Then, I told her those two beneficiaries that I listed are under the age of 18. “A minor can’t inherit directly if it’s above a certain dollar amount,” Diamond explained. “There has to be a trust provision and a guardian designated.”
Diamond gave me another tip regarding distribution of property: If you leave a retirement account to your estate, instead of to a beneficiary through your financial account, all the money must be withdrawn that same year and is taxed all at once. If you name a beneficiary on your retirement account, they can take out the minimum distribution per year and only pay taxes on that amount.
This part of our chat made me feel like an amateur. But we pressed on.
Diamond said that I should get as specific as possible in my will. For instance, I checked a box asking that my body be donated to science. “That’s not specific enough,” Diamond said.
I selected that I would “leave it to my family to decide” what sort of funeral I’d have.
“Family usually means next of kin,” Diamond explained, “But you should name a person whenever available.”
Michael Delgado, at Willing, said that a will typically isn’t a binding document for final arrangements. The options in the Willing software provide a fallback plan, in case you haven’t already communicated your wishes.
I asked Delgado about another wrinkle Diamond pointed out: Florida law says a personal representative — the person I chose to execute my will — must be a blood relative or a Florida resident. Luckily, my personal representative is a blood relative. But what if I had chosen a friend who lives halfway across the country to settle my estate?
Delgado said that when people are faced with too much legal information, they get intimidated, so the company can’t account for every caveat.
“The data suggests that it’s not really an issue that people are going to run into,” he said.
Online Will: Budget-Savvy or Bunk?
So, did I spend my money wisely?
While the Willing process has some limitations, it seemed to cover most bases for someone like me with a fairly simple situation.
Diamond wasn’t convinced. “Everyone wants value,” she said. “I’m not sure, except for in really straightforward cases, that you really get value” from an online will like the one I showed her.
She said that a person casually filling in blanks (me) wouldn’t know everything they need to do to make their will airtight. Those finer details could make settling your estate a potentially long and expensive process.
“If you make a mistake, it’s a huge expense,” she said.
Delgado said an online will isn’t a good idea for the especially wealthy (think net worth of $10 million and up) or people who have children with special needs. But the company’s legal research has determined the most important features to introduce to new will-makers, he explained.
I presented Diamond with another scenario: Could I save money by getting an online will, then taking it to someone like her for review and adjustment?
She said the time she would spend reviewing the document would be more expensive than starting from scratch.
“You have to know all the facts, and sometimes people don’t know themselves,” she said.
Getting your accounts in order — and making sure those applicable beneficiaries match your will — can take some conversation with an attorney. And a local attorney will know state and local law better than anyone.
The cost? Because there’s a such a wide range of fees, it would be better to call and ask an attorney their price range to create a will. “You can shop around,” she said.
Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.