A will ensures your possessions go to the right people after your death. You must compose yours carefully, but if your personal situation and estate aren't complicated, you might be able to create your own without help from an attorney.
Even if you go it alone, it’s important to have trustworthy guidance. Here are three ways to create a do-it-yourself will with online resources, along with the pros and cons of each method.
(Not sure how wills work? See our will-writing primer.)
1. Use an online will template
Type “will writing” into your browser and you'll find many sites offering templates. This is one step up from typing the full document on your own, as you might if you were using a will-writing book.
Many sites offer templates tailored to your state's regulations and your personal needs
Templates are often free
You can complete your will on your own schedule
Templates might be outdated. Double-check current laws to make sure the one you're using is valid.
Some template providers require you to register or enter personal information. If you're concerned about privacy or future sales calls, this could pose a problem.
Most templates are free, but if you need a special form, it could cost you
2. Use will-writing software
Your online search will probably also turn up software such as programs offered by Rocket Lawyer or LegalZoom. These guide you through the will-writing process in a more supportive way than a plain-text template might.
The software should include your state's legal requirements
The standardized language that programs use helps to remove any confusion about your wishes
A guided approach helps ensure you don't overlook any information or steps
As with a template, software lets you write your will when it's convenient for you
Software isn't free, though it's generally cheaper than hiring an attorney
You'll need to research online reviews and other resources to find reputable software
Will-writing programs might not account for special situations, such as naming someone to care for your pets or safeguarding a special collection
3. Go the hybrid route
With this option, you start writing your will yourself, using either a template or software, and then ask an attorney any lingering questions.
By starting the process, you'll have answered or anticipated most questions a legal adviser would have
You'll be able to discuss your concerns with a professional — and learn about concerns you might not have considered
Because you'll have done much of the work before consulting the attorney, your fees might be much lower than what you'd have paid if you started with a visit to the lawyer's office
Even a partial lawyer's fee is more expensive than the other will-writing methods
Working with a professional is more time-consuming. You'll have at least one appointment at the attorney's office, which might mean taking time off work or other inconveniences.
Regardless of the method you choose, the most important thing is to complete the process. Virtually any kind of will is better than nothing. Remember, too, that you'll need to update your will, either on your own or by contacting your attorney, whenever your life circumstances change (think having a child or getting divorced).
If your estate is complex or large, it might be worth your time and money to consult an attorney right away. For more tips on distributing your estate efficiently, see NerdWallet’s estate planning basics.