We made wills!

Now that we have kids, Emily and I thought it was important to make wills so we could designate guardians in case we die. Our situation is straightforward, so I was hopeful we could find a cheap and easy off-the-shelf solution. I’m also hoping these wills won’t get used. If I thought there was a higher chance of one of us dying I’d consider spending more effort to find a good local lawyer. I read a bunch of stuff online (how-to guides, explanation of right-of-survivorship, the Wikipedia page on probate, etc), but it was mostly unnecessary. It didn’t affect our will in any way.

We decided to use the Mac download version of Nolo Quicken WillMaker Plus. The list price is currently $70. It looks like there might regularly be coupon codes available, so you might be able to get it for less.

I think it works well and I’m happy with the decision. It asks you a bunch of questions about your property, your family, your pets, who you would like to be the guardian of your kids and pets, who you would like to be the will’s executor, etc, then it creates a pdf for you to print. There are instructions for how to sign (need witnesses) and instructions for the executor. It took us around two and a half hours. It could have taken a lot less time but I wanted to read every bit of help text to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

Other notes:

  • Remember to talk with your guardians before including then in your will.
  • Willmaker Plus does not support joint or mutual wills and that was fine with us. The program has a feature for automatically mirroring a will for the spouse. That’s what we used and it worked great.
  • An advantage of download software compared to a web-based solution or a real life lawyer is that we can use it multiple times while only paying once. There’s no additional cost for creating two wills or for revising the wills when your situation changes. On the flip side, the software might become out of date.
  • To give myself confidence in the wills from Willmaker Plus, I made a will using one of the websites mentioned below and compared it to a Willmaker Plus will. They were similar and the differences were inconsequential as far as I could discern, so I felt pretty good about it.
  • Separately we made three lists to make things easier for our executor: a list of all our assets, bank accounts, etc that are covered by the wills, a list of retirement accounts that are not covered by the wills, and a list of recurring payments to cancel. These are informational only—not technically a part of the will.

Other options

I looked through many pages of Google search results before deciding on WillMaker Plus. If you don’t want to use WillMaker Plus and don’t want to find a local lawyer, these three seem like the next best options:

  • Rocket Lawyer – Seems great. A website that walks through mostly the same questions as WillMaker Plus. Looks like it might be more current when it comes to digital assets. Maybe $20 per will.
  • US Legal Forms – Just a form that you fill out yourself. Seems pretty respectable. $30 for two individual wills or $65 for a mutual will.
  • Legal Zoom – Seems good. A human reviews the entered data. $69 per person as far as I can tell, not a combined price for a couple. They advertise on NPR (or KQED, anyway).
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3 Responses to We made wills!

  1. Simon says:

    Curious about “retirement accounts that are not covered by the wills”. Are they also not assets that need to be dealt with?

    • Mark Doliner says:

      Our Roth and traditional IRAs and my HSA allow us to specify beneficiaries directly on the account. My understanding is that the beneficiaries specified here take precedence over the will and allow the retirement accounts to be excluded from the probate process. If no beneficiaries were specified, then maybe the money would fall under the will’s umbrella?

  2. Alex says:

    Just want to add: If what you want to do in your will is at all complex or different than what the forms and websites cover, please talk to a lawyer. The law surrounding wills is complex and nit-picky, and unfortunately, the specific words and procedures can sometimes matter a great deal (also, each state has its own particularities). I cefrt

    Similarly, make sure you follow the procedures that WillMaker/Rocket/LegalZoom/etc. provide for executing your will to the letter. Again, it varies from state to state, but wills can be invalid if you do the procedure wrong.

    You’ve got a confluence of issues here that lead to this ridiculous complexity: (1) wills have been around forever, (2) a lot of money is often at stake, and (3) the person who best knows what he or she meant to do is, by definition, unavailable. Over time, the law has just piled on corrections to address all the possible disputes, and now it really is one of the most inscrutable areas of law.


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