How to Make Sure Your Online Will Is Legally Binding

If you use an online service like LegalZoom or FreeWill to create your will, don’t assume that you can also sign and save your will online. Print it out, invite a notary to the signing ceremony, and keep a paper copy in a safe and secure place.

As financial columnist Paul Sullivan explains in The New York Times , many people don’t realize that online wills have a stand-alone component:

But in all these examples, at the end of the online experience, no matter how simple and straightforward it is, the user still has to print a will, sign it at a notary, and attest two people. Otherwise, the will is not worth the computer paper it was printed on.

Once the will is signed and notarized, it must be kept in a safe place as uploading it back to the website invalidates it.

Sullivan points out that while some states are working to create legislation that gives equal effect to both print and online wills – and that Nevada and Indiana have already passed laws confirming wills using electronic signature – it’s still a good idea to print your will ( and a very, very good idea to notarize it).

I’ve written about the dangers of online wills before. If you use online legal probate software that includes incomplete or conflicting information, you can leave your heirs with more problems than the document is worth. In addition, these online services do not always ensure that your will complies with state inheritance laws.

However, I didn’t make a will – yes, I know I should – so I don’t know how well the online will program outlines the offline steps you need to take to make sure your will is valid. For example, when you browse the FAQ about the latest LegalZoom Will, it doesn’t mention anything about the printout of your Will:

After signing your will, keep it in a safe and easily accessible place. Make sure the person you have appointed as your executor knows exactly where you kept your last will. You don’t need to sue or post it publicly. However, some courts may allow you to hand them your will, depending on how busy or overcrowded they are.

Many people can easily interpret a “safe, easily accessible place” as Dropbox or Google Drive. Create a will online, sign it online, skip the notarial part because you’ve read that you don’t technically need to do this, and hide your will securely in the cloud.

On the other hand, the FreeWill FAQ is more specific:

Once you print the will and sign it in front of two witnesses, it will be a valid legal document. If you live in Louisiana, you will need to sign a will with two witnesses in the presence of a notary.

As for the notary: it would be nice to use the services of a notary, regardless of which state you live in. In many cases, if you do not have a notary present when signing and attesting your will, your two witnesses will need to testify in inheritance court on your behalf and verify that your signature was indeed yours. As Nolo explains:

It is worth going to the extra hassle of getting a notarized, self-proving affidavit because it will make it easier for you to make your will after your death. When your witnesses sign affidavits, they swear that they saw you sign a will and that you had the mental faculties required to draw up a valid will. After your death, witnesses will not need to give any additional testimony or appear in court to testify; the affidavit will do its job.

I’m not a lawyer, and my best advice to you is the same as in my last article on writing wills: find a lawyer to help you through the process. Yes, it will cost a little more, but it will save your loved ones a lot of time and effort in times of grief and stress.

But if you choose to use an online probate service instead of a lawyer, make sure you get a printed and notarized will – or at least check your state’s laws before completing the probate process.


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