Herman Vanilla wants to leave all his property to his wife, Velma, except for $10,000 to each of his five grandchildren and $5,000 to each of three charities. If Velma dies before him, everything goes to his two adult children.
The Quicken WillMaker Plus interview would meet this family's needs. The final product was good, according to our expert, Gerry W. Beyer. A simple menu let us move between interview sections. The onscreen interview was comprehensive. The program offered simple options for creating bequests and included instructions for an executor. On the minus side, it assigned arbitrary time limits in the will, such as the 45 days a beneficiary must survive Herman before receiving bequests. And it incorrectly stated that grandchildren born after the will was written would not be covered by it. (Beyer noted that most states allow for a generic bequest to "grandchildren.")
LegalZoom's interview was incomplete, Beyer found, and the information and final product inadequate. Pop-up explanations were good but generally short. The interview offered no direct way to give gifts to people until the surviving spouse dies. We found navigating LegalZoom difficult; if we wanted to return to an earlier interview section, we had to start at the beginning.
Rocket Lawyer's interview was adequate and provided comprehensive information. The final will was "primitive," but it would work, Beyer said. The program provided good options for creating specific bequests, determining who receives the residuary estate (what's left if you and your spouse both die), and other subjects, and it appropriately suggested when to see a lawyer. It offered the option of requiring beneficiaries to survive Herman for at least 30 days before receiving inherited property. Our expert said 30 days was arbitrary.
Ivan Richman has three grown children and five grandchildren from a first marriage, and two younger children: Ruby, age 13, from his current marriage to Thelma, and Chastity, a love child, age 20. He wants to leave $50,000 to Chastity but otherwise cut her out of the will. He wants to name a guardian for Ruby in case he and Thelma die before she's grown, and to create several trusts, including a special-needs trust for his disabled son, Lemuel.
All three products failed to meet Ivan's needs. None created a special-needs trust or corrected us when we included life-insurance proceeds in the will (proceeds go to beneficiaries named in the policy). None allowed Ivan to give Chastity $50,000 but otherwise cut her out of the will.
WillMaker Plus arbitrarily limited one daughter's trust so it ended when she turned 35, and it didn't discuss all options available for Ruby's inheritance. The will included boilerplate language in the trust that wasn't mentioned in the interview.
LegalZoom suggested naming Thelma as Ruby's guardian, an unnecessary move when the surviving spouse is also the child's parent. LegalZoom offered no way to name different trustees for different children's trusts. We wondered if a LegalZoom expert could help; we'd paid $10 extra for a 30-day trial of "Legal Advantage," which includes attorney "support." But we found no drop-downs or tabs to link us to the service. The staffer at LegalZoom's toll-free number didn't ask if we had Legal Advantage. Instead, she told us to type our requests into a special-directives box and the company's experts would "change it accordingly" in a hard copy of the will that it provides. It didn't. Beyer said handling trusts this way was "like removing your own appendix." (A LegalZoom executive told us after we completed our test that customer service should have connected us to an attorney. Another company official mentioned plans to improve links to Legal Advantage this summer.)
Rocket Lawyer let us edit the finished will, though we couldn't go back into the interview. We couldn't find an appropriate place to insert many of Ivan's directives, so we put them in a specific-bequests section. Beyer called the results a "gold mine for probate litigators."
Andrea Solo is a widow with a live-in boyfriend, two grown daughters, and three grandchildren. She has detailed wishes regarding the disposition of a business she owns with a daughter. She wants her granddaughters to inherit her jewelry when they reach age 18 and to receive money after they meet certain educational benchmarks. She wants a granddaughter to manage her "electronic assets." She would like her partner to be able to live in the house she owns as long as he wants, though her daughters will inherit it. She also wants to arrange for her dog's care.
None of the products had provisions for digital assets or gave adequate information on business arrangements.
WillMaker Plus included a good section on arranging for care of a surviving pet. It explained registered domestic partnerships, though the information wasn't state-specific. But the software wouldn't let Andrea dictate the conditions of her bequests. "Andrea's desires are just too complex for the software to handle," Beyer said.
LegalZoom didn't address most of Andrea's wishes, so we again added them to a special-directives box. The LegalZoom checkers again didn't flag those lengthy directives or recommend they be reviewed by an attorney—a flaw, in Beyer's view.
Rocket Lawyer's interview wouldn't handle all of Andrea's conditions, so we again edited the will's specific bequests. Beyer called the resulting will "a mess."
This article appeared in Consumer Reports Money Adviser.