You probably know you should have a will. Leaving clear instructions about your last wishes and how you want your belongings allocated is essential. It can also make your death easier for the loved ones you leave behind. But thinking about your mortality or the administrative details may be causing you to put off writing a will.
Get started by completing each of these 7 simple steps. You’ll be glad to cross it off your to-do list, and you’ll feel more at ease about the future.
1. Get legal help when needed.
If your assets and requests are relatively straightforward, you may be able to draft a simple will without using an estate attorney. However, if you have a high net worth or a complicated financial situation, be sure to get professional help.
If you’re not sure whether you need an attorney to create your will, speak to several about your situation and their potential fees. The cost of a will varies depending on the details of your finances and the time it requires. Getting a lawyer’s help may also motivate you to complete the task if you’ve been putting it off.
2. Choose a will-making tool.
If you decide to create your own will, there are a variety of tools that can help:
- Books about estate planning, such as Wills & Trust Kit for Dummies, provide will templates, forms and tips for creating a will.
- Software programs, such as Quicken WillMaker & Trust, help you build a will by prompting you to answer questions.
- Online programs, such as LegalZoom, allow you to develop your will by answering questions on a website or app.
3. Decide what your heirs will receive.
Identifying your heirs and assets, and then allocating everything you own may be the most time-consuming step. Start by making a list of each person you plan to include in your will. Then list what you own by categories, such as financial accounts, life insurance policies, real estate, vehicles, collectibles and household belongings.
Typically, your spouse or partner and children are primary beneficiaries. But in case you and a spouse died at the same time, you should name secondary beneficiaries.
Assign individual assets or a percentage of what you own to your heirs. For instance, if you want your brother to have your classic car, be sure to specify it. Or you may wish to leave your husband 50% of your assets. Be as clear as possible, so you avoid creating any confusion among beneficiaries.
Also note that in most states, when a married person dies, his or her spouse becomes the legal beneficiary. If you want to disinherit a spouse, be sure to seek legal advice.
4. Figure out who will execute your wishes.
Every will should include an executor — the person who carries out the wishes in your will. You might name your spouse, a capable friend, or an attorney for this potentially arduous task. Always ask a potential executor about his or her willingness before naming them in your will. Plus, choose an alternate in case your first choice is no longer alive or can’t perform the necessary duties.
If you’re a parent, also name primary and secondary guardians for your dependent children in your will. If you don’t, the court will appoint someone for you. Consider choosing family or close friends who could take this weighty responsibility until your children become legal adults. Again, be sure to discuss it with the potential guardians first.
5. Make it legal.
If you write your own will, be sure to make it legal in the state where you live. In most states, you and two witnesses (who are at least 18 years old) must sign your will.
Ideally, your witnesses should not be in your will or have an interest in your estate. Although it’s typically optional, you may want to have a will notarized for additional protection.
6. File your will in the right places.
If the worst happens, you wouldn’t want your family or friends to be unable to locate your will. So, let your heirs know they’re in your will and where to find it.
Keep your original will copy in a secure place, such as a bank safe deposit box, with your attorney or in a fireproof safe. You might give a copy to someone you trust and another to your named executor.
7. Make revisions to your will.
Once you have a will, don’t stop there. Consider creating other emergency documents such as a power of attorney and a health care directive. These could prove invaluable if you were incapacitated and unable to make important health and financial decisions for yourself.
Remember to update your will after any significant life change, such as getting married or divorced and having or adopting children. Otherwise, you may mistakenly bequeath assets to an ex-spouse or someone you don’t want to have them.
Every few years revisit your will and other vital documents to make sure they accomplish your wishes and leave the legacy you want.