Here is a quick survey of what you can and cannot do with Nolo's Online Will. Each topic is discussed in greater detail in the on-screen help as you make your will.
(And here is some information about What Nolo's Online Will Cannot Do.)
Nolo's Online Will provides you with unique guidance and options based on the state in which you live, your marital status, whether you have children, whether your children are minors and how you want to leave your property. Recognizing that some people have very simple wishes for leaving their property while those of others are more complex, our will lets you choose from among several approaches designed to meet your needs. For instance, if you are married, you may choose to:
You may also name at least two levels of alternates for your primary beneficiaries, and you can split gifts evenly between two or more beneficiaries or you can give each beneficiary a percentage of the entire gift.
Nolo's Online Will lets you make an unlimited number of separate gifts—called specific bequests—of cash, personal property or real estate. You may choose to leave these bequests to your spouse, children, grandchildren or anyone else—including friends, business associates, charities or other organizations. You can also use your will to leave property to a living trust, if you've established one.
EXAMPLE 1: Using Nolo's Online Will, Marcia leaves her interest in the family home to her spouse Duane, her valuable coin collection to one of her children, her boat to another child, her computer to a charity and $5,000 to her two aunts, in equal shares.
EXAMPLE 2: Raymond, a lifelong bachelor, leaves his house to his favorite charity. He divides his personal possessions among 15 different relatives and friends.
EXAMPLE 3: Darryl and Floyd have lived together for several years. Darryl leaves Floyd all of his property, which includes his car, time-share ownership in a condominium, a savings account and miscellaneous personal belongings.
Nolo's Online Will also allows you to name people or organizations to take whatever property is left over after you have made the specific bequests. This property is called your residuary estate.
EXAMPLE: Annie wants to make a number of small bequests to friends and charities but to leave the bulk of her property to her friend Maureen. She accomplishes this by using specific bequests to make the small gifts, and then names Maureen as residuary beneficiary. There is no need for her to list the property that goes to Maureen. The very nature of the residuary estate is that the residuary beneficiary—in this case, Maureen—gets everything that is left over after the specific bequests are distributed.
If you leave your entire estate to one person or to a group of people without making any specific bequests, then your estate will have no residuary beneficiary.
With Nolo's Online Will, all beneficiaries you name take the property you leave them under your will only if they survive you by 45 days. Nolo's Online Will imposes this 45-day rule because you do not want to leave your property to a beneficiary who dies very shortly after you do. When that happens, the property you left to that beneficiary would then be passed along to that person's inheritors who are not likely to be the ones you would have chosen to receive your property.
To account for the possibility that your first choices of beneficiaries will not meet the survivorship requirement, Nolo's Online Will allows you to name alternate beneficiaries for each of your bequests.
You may use Nolo's Online Will to name a personal guardian—either an individual or a couple—to care for your minor children until they reach age 18, in case there is no other legal parent to handle these duties. You may name the same guardian for all your children, or different guardians for different children. (It is important, however, that both parents name the same person or couple as guardian for any particular child; see the example below.) You will also have the opportunity to explain your choices in your will.
If your children need a guardian after your death, a court will formally review your choice. Your choice will normally be approved unless the person or couple you name refuses to assume the responsibility or the court becomes convinced that your children would be better off in the care of someone else.
EXAMPLE: Millicent names her friend Vera to serve as personal guardian in the event that her husband, Frank, dies at the same time she does or is otherwise unavailable to care for their three children. Millicent and Frank die together in an accident. No one questions Vera's ability to care for them, so the court appoints her to be the personal guardian for all three children.
If Frank had written a will naming another person to serve as guardian, however, the court would have to choose between those nominated. For this reason, parents should choose the same people as personal guardians, if possible.
Property left to minors—especially cash or other liquid assets—will usually have to be managed by an adult until the minors turn 18. In many cases, it may be most prudent to have an adult manage property left to minors until they are even older.
Property management involves safeguarding and spending the property for the young person's education, health care and basic living needs; keeping good records of these expenditures; and seeing that income taxes are paid.
Nolo's Online Will allows you to name a trusted person to manage property you leave to young beneficiaries through your will. The management methods available are different from state to state.
You can also name a property guardian to manage property that other people leave to your children or property that you leave to them outside of your will.
You can use Nolo's Online Will to relieve any debtors who owe you money at your death from the responsibility of paying your survivors. All you need to do is specify the debts and the people who owe them. You will document will include a statement in your will canceling the debts. If a debt is canceled in this way, Nolo's Online Will also automatically wipes out any interest that has accrued on it as of your death.
EXAMPLE: Cynthia lent $25,000 at 10% annual interest to her son George as a down payment on a house. She uses Nolo's Online Will to cancel this debt. At Cynthia's death, George need not pay her estate the remaining balance of the loan or the interest accrued on it.
With Nolo's Online Will, you can name an executor for your estate. This person or institution, called a personal representative in some states, will be responsible for making sure the provisions in your will are carried out and your property distributed as your will directs. Nolo's Online Will also produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires.
The executor can be any competent adult. Commonly, people name a spouse or another close relative or friend or—for large estates or where no trusted person is able to serve—a financial institution, such as a bank or savings and loan. You are free to name two people or institutions to share the job, but doing so is often unwise.
It is also a good idea to use Nolo's Online Will to name an alternate executor in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling to serve.
EXAMPLE 1: Rick and Phyllis both use Nolo's Online Will to complete wills naming each other as executor in case the other dies first. They both name Rick's father as an alternate executor to distribute their property in the event they die at the same time.
EXAMPLE 2: Pat and Babs do not wish to burden their relatives with having to take care of their fairly considerable estate. Each names the Third National Bank as executor after checking that their estate is large enough so that this bank will be willing to take the job.