I’m not an attorney, and what follows does not constitute legal advice.  It’s just some research plus personal experience.

So we know that having a will is important, but how do we go about getting one?  Thanks to the magic of the internet, we have a few options nowadays.

1) Consult an estate-planning attorney

If you have a large or complex estate (over $500,000 – $1 million, multiple properties, assets in multiple states or other complexities), this is the best way to go.  It’s worth it to you – and you can afford – to spend a few hundred bucks on a will that is specifically designed and tailored for you.

2) Use Online Services

For most people, this is the way to go.  For much less than $100, you can get a will that is specific to your state and built to your specifications.  There are many options out there, but I’d recommend two:

LegalZoom.com – If you’ve listened to the radio at all, you’ve likely heard LegalZoom.com commercials for years.  They’re possibly the top online legal services provider out there, for good reason.  For $69 you can get a state-specific will tailored to you, with an online system that guides you through the process.  You just answer the questions online, and they have live support if you have any issues.  It takes maybe 30 minutes for most people, if you know who you want to give your stuff to.  Highly recommend.

USLegalForms.com – This is who we used for our wills.  At $21.95, you can’t beat their price.  The downside compared to LegalZoom is that they literally give you forms, Microsoft Word documents that you complete.  They have instructions and are already formatted, but it lacks an online system where you simply answer the questions and they use those answers to format the will.  It is little more difficult, and I found it slightly confusing at times; I found myself wondering, “Am I doing this right?”  But you can’t beat their price.  It took me a bit to finalize everything.  I’d recommend it for highly cost-conscious people, if you’re confident in your comprehension and reading ability.

3) Just write one (North Carolina Residents only)

Ever heard of a “holographic will?”  Neither had I.  Apparently though, under North Carolina law, a fully handwritten will is an acceptable legal document.  So there’s really no reason anyone should die without a will – just write one today if you live in North Carolina.  You don’t need a witness, just fully hand-write your wishes on a sheet (or sheets) of paper, put some identifying information in there, and keep it with your important documents.  Don’t put any printed words on the page, and it can suffice as a will.

I don’t recommend the holographic will as a long-term solution; it’s just a stop-gap measure if you were to keel over dead tomorrow.  I still recommend that you get a full, state specific will from an attorney or online provider.

Once you finalize your will (if it’s not a holographic will), to put it in force it needs to be witnessed and notarized.  You have to sign it in the presence of a notary public, and have it witnessed that you signed it.  This was one thing that held me up a little bit, because I thought I had to go down to the UPS store and drag some friends along with me and pay a notary $5 for every stamp on the paper (about $20).

But just about every bank has multiple notaries public on staff.  And if you bank with them, they’ll likely notarize your documents without charge.  So Nancy and I ran down to the bank, had a few other employees witness, and got our wills notarized in about 20 minutes.  Done and done.

So now you have no excuse!  A will is a vitally important part of your financial plan, and you have the resources to make it happen.  Go do the right thing by your family and get a will!