The pros and cons of online will services


Q: Can an online document prep service create a valid Texas?

A: Yes. However, there are many ways to completely mess up the document.

For example, the software product you are using may not have the correct Texas-specific language on its form. Or you may use ambiguous language or try to give away assets under your will that are outside the terms of the will (e.g. life insurance or retirement savings account).

The company you mentioned in your question (which I removed and changed to “Online Document Preparation Service”) states on their website that you can sign the will online and then invite others to testify later. It’s not done like that in Texas. Perhaps somewhere else on their website they state how to properly sign the will once you pay to get the document.

You could save a few hundred dollars in legal fees today by doing it yourself, but there is a good chance that after your death you will cost your beneficiaries thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Therefore, it is usually best to seek advice from an attorney rather than trying to come up with your own will and estate plan.

Q: You wrote a few weeks ago about a widower who wanted to put his house in his own name and you said he should hire a lawyer to figure out what kind of inheritance is needed. About five years ago in San Antonio, all I had to do was produce a copy of my husband’s death certificate and a copy of my driver’s license to put our house in my name alone. Why should a lawyer be needed?

A: I looked up your information on the Bexar County Appraisal District website (using your name from your email) and you actually removed your late husband’s name from the records with a death certificate.

What you didn’t do, however, was remove his name from the title of the property. Two years before his death, in August 2013, your husband gave you half of the house. A title search would reveal that the two of you still own.

Everything is fine until you try to sell the house, refinance the mortgage if you have one, or get a home equity loan. There will also be title problems after your death. Some kind of discount would be required at each of these points.

If you want to remove your husband’s name from the title, you should meet with an attorney to discuss your options.

The information in this column is intended to provide a general understanding of the law, not legal advice. Readers with legal problems, including those whose questions are covered here, should consult lawyers about their particular circumstances. Ronald Lipman of Lipman & Associates law firm in Houston is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in estate planning and estate law. Email questions to [email protected]

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