U.S. Legal Wills Review 2021Estate Planning
- U.S. Legal Wills
- Basics: U.S. Legal Wills is surprisingly robust given its low cost.
- Pros: You can prepare documents that address a variety of circumstances and can have your documents reviewed by a lawyer if you wish.
- Cons: Because there are more options, some users may get confused during the process, but there are helpful Q&As to address this. Also, the type of trust produced through U.S. Legal Wills is not the kind of trust that will allow your estate to avoid probate.
• Will or Expat Will: $39.95
• Power of Attorney: $29.95
• Living Will: $19.95
• Life Locker: $29.95
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As an estate planning attorney, I’ve prepared hundreds of documents for clients at various stages. I’ve written them from scratch or used a template. I have also looked into several of the estate planning document services. For the most part, my conclusion has been that these services provide good basic documents but they are not necessarily suitable for different situations. Will my U.S. Legal Wills review turn out the same? Let’s dive into it.
In this U.S. Legal Wills review, I will discuss what this service is, what you get with it, its value, and its pros and cons so you can determine if it’s right for you.
U.S. Legal Wills Overview
Here are the basics behind the U.S. Legal Wills platform and products:
What Is U.S. Legal Wills?
U.S. Legal Wills provides a website where people can draft their own estate planning documents, such as wills and powers of attorney. It is operated by Parting Wishes, Inc., which works with lawyers from around the country but is not a law firm itself. The company has operated since 2000.
You also have the option to store documents online and provide access to important information to people they select.
How U.S. Legal Wills Works
U.S. Legal Wills uses a wizard that asks questions. As you input information, the wizard adapts and provides you with follow-up questions. For example, if you indicate that you have children, it will ask whom you wish to name as your children’s guardian. You also have options to leave property in a trust for them, and there are options to disinherit people if you so choose.
After you have answered all of the questions, a document forms that incorporates all of your answers. While you have some provisions included in your documents based on your particular selections, you have other standard provisions that are common in these types of documents. You can then view your documents. The site explains what you need to do to make your document legal. You have the option of making changes later on or downloading your documents in a Word file.
You can also use the site’s MyVault™ function to store important documents, add important information about your life and online activity in the Life Locker™, and create funeral plans or messages to be sent after your death.
U.S. Legal Wills vs. an Attorney
U.S. Legal Wills is much faster than meeting with an attorney. You can draft your will within 20 minutes, even when choosing more complex options, such as leaving a trust or special instructions. Some of the supplemental documents such as the living will or financial power of attorney can be completed in even less time. U.S. Legal Wills offers more customizable options than many other services. For example, you can provide a trust for your pet, specify how you want your property divided, name different trustees for each of your children, designate different ages at which point your children should receive distributions or forgive debts. These features make it far more robust than some of its competitors.
Additionally, you can store important documents online with the service, provide online account information to trusted individuals and draft a funeral plan.
An attorney will take much longer to prepare your estate planning documents. However, this extra time can also result in having a better understanding of your unique situation so that your wishes are communicated and clauses to protect you are included in your estate plan. However, you will pay for this extra time and attention to detail with higher hourly rates, commonly reported between between $250 – $310 per hour.
A lawyer may be best if you are wanting a trust that provides specific instructions about how the funds should be used or conditions for your beneficiary to receive the funds (such as passing a drug test if this has been a problem in the past). While U.S. Legal Wills does integrate trusts into your will if you select this option, this is a testamentary trust, not a living revocable trust. Two downsides to this are that the trust does not become effective until after your death so there is no safeguard with it in case you become incapacitated and your will would have to be probated before the trust would become effective. Many people use trusts as a way to avoid probate, but with the U.S. Legal Wills setup, this will not occur.
Another difference is that lawyers can add a bit more finesse with estate planning documents, such as carefully wording disinheritance clauses or adding a self-proving affidavit that saves your witnesses the trouble of having to testify about you signing the will.
U.S. Legal Wills does provide the option of paying $69 to have an attorney licensed in your state review the document. This may give you extra peace of mind of knowing that your document is legally valid, especially if you selected some of the options to customize your plan, such as detailing specifically how to divide your property or specific instructions you leave in your living will regarding your medical care.
What You Get with U.S. Legal Wills
U.S. Legal Wills provides a variety of different products and services at different price points, but they are all pretty affordable and well below the average cost to have a lawyer prepare the document. Some options include:
You can create a detailed will for $39.95. You don’t have to pay any ongoing membership fees, and your bank account is not charged any additional fees automatically to renew a “membership” or for any other reason without your express consent.
You can create an expat will if you have assets in the United States, Canada, England, or Wales but live in a different country. You can also use this service if you have an existing will covering the assets in the country where you live but you need to incorporate instructions regarding your assets in the United States, Canada, England, or Wales.
U.S. Legal Wills does not currently offer stand-alone trusts, but you can include trusts in your will for your children or pets.
Powers of Attorney
For $29.95, you can create a financial power of attorney.
You can create a living will for a one-time fee of $19.95.
You can have any of the documents listed above reviewed for an additional $69.
You can store important information for your executor in Life Locker for $29.95. You can also nominate up to 20 KeyHolders™ who can have access to this information. You can specify what each person can access in your Life Locker. This feature lets your family find important information when they need it.
U.S. Legal Wills currently offers 40% off for your spouse or partner. Each person must create a separate account.
You can upload important files to your Vault™, prepare a funeral plan, or write final messages that are delivered after your death for no extra charge.
Your documents are stored on the U.S. Legal Wills site for one year after your purchase. You can make unlimited updates at no extra charge for this year.
If you want continued access to your documents and want to update them, you can pay for continued storage. With this option, you can make unlimited changes to all your documents, regardless of how many documents you initially purchased. Costs for continued storage (after the first year) include:
- One year – $11.95
- Five years – $24.95
- 10 years – $34.95
- 25 years – $74.95
- Lifetime – $124.95
While you can't use U.S. Legal Wills to create a living trust, it does provide several common estate planning documents at a low cost.
Who U.S. Legal Wills Is Good For
U.S. Legal Wills provides a good estate plan for the typical consumer with pretty straightforward estate planning needs. People who stand to get the most out of U.S. Legal Wills include:
People Who Want More Customization
U.S. Legal Wills provides a greater degree of customization than other estate planning document service providers. You can leave more detailed instructions if you want to and can even prepare supplementary documents outside the will that is referenced and incorporated into your will (such as a list of personal property that you want to designate to specific individuals). Also, because you can download your documents in Word format, you can easily make other additions or changes.
U.S. Legal Wills is one of only a few service providers that let you prepare a will specific to expats.
People Who Want to Set Up Testamentary Trusts
U.S. Legal Wills allows you to set up a trust in your will for pets or minor children.
People Who Want to Safely Store Online Documents
You can store a massive amount of information and documents in the Vault and Life Locker, including contact information for your emergency contacts, your notarized and witnessed documents, copies of deeds and other personal, financial and legal information.
People Who Want an Attorney to Review Their Documents for Cheap
For extra peace of mind, you can have an attorney review your estate planning documents for $69/document.
Who U.S. Legal Wills Isn’t Good For
U.S. Legal Wills provides a detailed will and other estate planning documents, but it might not be appropriate for:
People who Want a Living Revocable Trust to Avoid Probate
U.S. Legal Wills does not currently offer a living revocable trust. These trusts can be powerful estate planning documents that detail how your property should be managed. They can also provide a seamless transition of your financial management if you become incapacitated. If used properly, they can also help your estate avoid the probate process.
People who Have Beneficiaries with Special Needs
While U.S. Legal Wills provides estate plans that can meet the needs of customers in various situations, they do not contain specific information for children or other beneficiaries with special needs. However, since this is a much more complex aspect of estate planning that may require you to be familiar with rules regarding public benefit programs, you should likely consult an attorney if you are in this situation.
People Who Want Life-Sustaining Treatment
The default living will states that you do not want life-sustaining treatment in the event that it will only prolong your life and not improve its quality. I didn’t see a way to override this default other than leaving specific instructions that would likely contradict it and potentially confuse your medical providers and family. If you do want life-sustaining treatment, you might not want to use the default settings.
How to Create Your Plan with U.S. Legal Wills
U.S. Legal Wills uses a wizard to help prepare your estate planning documents.
Create Your Account
You can create a member account if you would like so that you can take advantage of the storage options.
You simply provide your contact information, create a username and password, choose secret questions and click on the products you want to add.
Alternatively, you can click on the “Start Your Will” button on the home page or the “Try It Now” button under any of the products listed.
Click on the Product You Want to Prepare
U.S. Legal Wills will show you a progress bar of how close you are to finishing your estate plan and will lay out several links that you can click on to complete the next steps.
Once you select a product, you will be given several options. Click on “Create or Modify” the product you are preparing.
Walk Through the Steps
For each product, you will be given a step-by-step list of what you need to do to draft your document.
The tool will explain the product during the introductory information. Carefully read over this information as it explains the purpose of the document and important considerations.
Input the requested information
Click on the selection of your choice and type in other necessary information. The program even includes more updated options, such as choosing your beneficiary’s pronouns or viewing selections specific for blended families.
Read Common Questions and Hints
There is a sidebar on the left side of the page with answers to some of the most common questions users have.
Also, review the hints that populate with each page. These hints may provide you with more information or let you know if you might have made a mistake.
Leave Customized Directions
You can set up a trust for your pet or provide detailed instructions on how to distribute your property. On the living will, you can type in your directions.
Review Your Documents and Next Steps
You can view, download a PDF, download a Word version (all for free), or have your documents printed and mailed to you for an extra charge. Carefully review the next steps to learn how to make your documents legal.
Prepare Other Documents
Return to the Member Home and prepare your next document in the same way.
Fill Your Life Locker
Add important information you want your executor or your family to have.
Upload Documents to Your Vault
Also, upload documents to your Vault.
Designate other people you want to have access to your documents and specify their access.
U.S. Legal Wills Consumer Reviews
Better Business Bureau
U.S. Legal Wills has a Better Business Bureau rating of A+.
Users report that the system is easy to use and are able to access the site on mobile devices.
U.S. Legal Wills includes a “knowledge base” for FAQs and offers customer service through phone, email, mail and a customer support portal.
Power of Attorney$29.95
U.S. Legal Wills Pros and Cons
U.S. Legal Wills Pros
- Affordable. The cost to create a will is much more affordable than hiring a lawyer and cheaper than many similar services.
- Greater customization. U.S. Legal Wills provides more sophisticated options to personalize your documents and is suitable for a number of more complex situations, including providing services for expats.
- Word download. Unlike many other services that only allow you to download your finished documents in a PDF, U.S. Legal Wills gives you a Word download, so you can make as many revisions to your documents as you want, without having to pay an additional cost to store the documents if you don’t want to.
- Safe storage. You can safely store your documents and other important information by using the Vault and Life Locker options.
- Instant access. Give loved ones access to the information they need by setting up keyholders well in advance of any emergency. The site is also mobile-friendly.
- Attorney review. You have the option of having an attorney review your specific documents and added instructions for a low cost.
- No automated subscription. You get access to your documents and can make free revisions for one year. While you can opt for a longer period of access, U.S. Legal Wills does not store your payment information and does not automatically renew.
U.S. Legal Wills Cons
- Limited ability for choices with some documents. The living will and power of attorney documents do not give you as much leeway to provide specific instructions as the will does. However, you can add or alter information with the Word download.
- No living trust option. U.S. Legal Wills does not currently provide the option to create a living revocable trust.
U.S. Legal Wills Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I change my documents at a later date?
Yes. You can make changes for up to one year after you purchase the product and any time while you have an active membership.
- How secure is U.S. Legal Wills?
U.S. Legal Wills allows you to safely secure your documents. It uses 256-bit SSL encryption – which is the most advanced level of encryption currently available – and randomly generates passwords for your keyholders as extra lawyers of security.
- Are the documents state-specific?
Alternatives to U.S. Legal Wills
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Valerie graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arkansas School of Law where she also participated in Moot Court and the Arkansas Law Review. She practices law in Arkansas, focusing primarily on estate planning and elder law. She has prepared countless estate planning documents and has participated in a number of guardianship cases since she was admitted to the bar. She is a regular contributor to Nolo.