The last thing anyone wants to spend a long time thinking about is death.  Our aversion to confronting the inevitability of the situation creates a dynamic where many issues surrounding the subject go overlooked or avoided altogether.  But, when taking a pragmatic approach to the issue, proper estate planning can give clarity and certainty to events that often gravitate toward the chaotic. Uncomfortable though it may be, strategic preparation for the time following one’s ultimate demise serves as a kindness and mercy to those struggling to deal with the aftereffects of someone’s death.  Roughly, only 4 in 10 Americans have completed any form of estate planning.  Having a clear plan in place prevents headaches and reduces heartaches, but in order for that to happen, it has to be done correctly.  Below, you’ll find answers to some of the questions related to online wills: “Are online wills legal?” and “Should I get an online will?”

What is a Will?

Simply put, a last will and testament serves as a legal document to explain asset distribution to beneficiaries following your death.  This document also names someone to serve as the person in charge of your final affairs and assists in the probate process.

Several different types of wills exist. This varies from using an estate lawyer to downloading an online template and filling out the form, yourself. But, are online wills legal? As with any other legal answer, “it depends”. This depends on how intricate you want the will to be, how well the will should stand the test of time, and how much basic legal knowledge you have.

What Should an Online Will Include?

While the contents and intention of a last will and testament can be quite serious, the answer to “are online wills legal?” is–very few legal requirements exist for wills.  The United States requires that all wills follow the following criteria to achieve proper legal consideration:

  • Having a sound mind, or “capacity” to make the determination of how to distribute assets.
  • The document must name a beneficiary.
  • The document must contain a signature from the person whose wishes are being documented.
  • Must include two witness signatures

While at first glance an individual might think that a will must be notarized, none of the states in the U.S. list a notarized signature as a requirement for wills.  However, having a notarized signature aids in the probate process.

Handwritten wills carry legal authority in some states, but the use of a “holographic” will should not serve as the primary last will and testament.  Handwritten wills should only be used when time is a factor and a formal will process would be too lengthy.  A handwritten will does not have the same legal authority and opens up the possibility to unwanted challenges.

For Louisiana specifically, no age requirements or mental capacity requirements exist for the execution of a will.  A signature requirement does exist, however.  Wills must contain the signature of the testator (person completing the will), two witnesses, and a notary.  Witnesses to wills in Louisiana cannot be blind, insane, unable to sign their name, or under the age of 16.  A recommendation that witnesses to a will have no interest in the contents of the will remains standard practice.

Are Online Wills Valid?

In terms of Louisiana specifically, online wills are considered legal and valid.   They must meet the other legal requirement for last will and testaments.

What is Probate? Is It Different In Every State?

The term probate describes the legal process that takes place after someone dies.  Generally, the probate process consists of the following activities:

  • Proving validity of a deceased person’s will
  • Inventory of the deceased person’s property
  • Property appraisals
  • Payment for any outstanding debts or taxes
  • Distribution of property according to the instructions within the will

Probate consists of the necessary paperwork and legal assistance.  Legal fees come out of the balance of the estate.  Remaining monies or property then go to individuals listed in the inheritance. (See our blog: How Long Does Probate Take?)

Are there Disadvantages to an Electronic Will?

While online will creation tools provide convenience in areas, they can cause potential pitfalls in others.

Some states’ probate courts may not recognize the legal authority of an electronic will.  This should be considered if any parties have moved.  In the instance that an electronic will is refused recognition, the assets listed in the will face distribution according to the state’s laws.  As a result the final wishes listed in the will may not be honored in totality.  The effects of such an event can include not only property allocation, but the continued guardianship of minors.

When cost savings served as a deciding factor for the creation of a will online, unforeseen issues and expenses may arise due to the boilerplate nature of the DIY will.  Important items or property often get overlooked.  Conflicts between persons named in a will and those named as beneficiaries on respective policies can occur.  This causes unintended conflicts.

Only the utilization of a trained estate planning attorney to assist in the will creation process can help you avoid these common mistakes.

When is the Best Time to Complete a Will?

Completing a will can take place at any time.  A good practice to follow includes updating your will whenever a major life event occurs.  These events can include births, deaths, marriages, divorces, or any other instance in which the allocation of assets would require reassessment.  As stated earlier, one of the few rules when it comes to a last will and testament involves the person completing the will.  They must be of sound mind at the time of the will’s creation.  The only time creating a will would not stand under scrutiny would involve a testator not of sound mind or under duress.

The Problem With Do It Yourself Online Wills?

While the considerations surrounding estate planning border on the infinite, a crucial factor to keep in mind revolves around the idea of convenience as opposed to quality.  Online wills are easy to complete and comparatively speaking remain the cheaper option.  But, only a trained professional with experience in estate planning can avoid mistakes and ensure your unique interests remain respected.

While online wills are legal, they aren’t ideal. Even using online services doesn’t guarantee that your last will and testament will have everything you need included. The services may have attorneys on staff, but personal help for your online will won’t be available. This cost, for most, isn’t worth the risk.

Need Your Will to Be Valid? Call Greenwald Law Firm

Whether you have been working to craft your own will or haven’t even begun the estate planning process, the experienced Shreveport estate planning lawyers at Greenwald Law Firm can assist in developing plans for you and your family.  Let them serve you and prevent unwanted challenges or issues in the future.  Call the Greenwald Law Firm at (318) 219-7867 or visit our website to schedule your free consultation.

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