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A will, also called a last will and testament, helps determine what happens to your assets after you pass. Assets can include money, real estate, personal items, and more that will be distributed to your loved ones should anything happen to you.
While writing your will can be an overwhelming process, it’s important to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Creating your last will and testament is one of the most important parts of planning your estate.
Writing a will may seem daunting, so we’re breaking it into six easy-to-follow steps. By the end of the process, you'll have a strong grasp of the basics and can feel more secure knowing your wishes will be upheld and your loved ones will receive what you wanted to leave with them. To dig deeper into your specific situation and needs, we recommend consulting an estate planning attorney.
There are a few methods and formats for writing a will: with the help of a lawyer, through an online service, or on your own.
Writing a will with the help of an estate planning lawyer is the most traditional and common method. Working with a lawyer can ensure your will is 100% accurate and comprehensive, including everything that is necessary with guidance from a legal professional.
Using an online will-creation platform might be a suitable option for someone with a straightforward estate plan and no complex assets.
Writing a will on your own can be a bit more complicated. For your will to be valid, it has to meet your state’s requirements exactly. If it doesn’t, your will can be deemed invalid and become subject to your state’s intestate succession laws, which means a probate court might determine what happens to your assets.
Choosing your executor is one of the most important parts of making a will. The executor is the party responsible for distributing assets and carrying out your will. Many people opt to name their estate planning attorney as their executor. If you’re not planning to use a lawyer, be sure to enlist someone you trust who also understands how a last will works.
To guarantee your assets are distributed in alignment with your wishes, you’ll need to name a beneficiary or beneficiaries as the designated parties to receive them. You can leave different things to different beneficiaries, just make sure you list each beneficiary’s full name to avoid any complications or confusion later on. You can also designate a business or organization to receive your assets if you so choose.
If you have any minor children, your will is where you name the guardian who will take custody and care for them in your absence. Be sure to choose someone you trust and list the guardian’s full legal name.
Prior to writing your will, it’s important to take an inventory of all of the assets you want to include. Once you’ve listed them all, assign a beneficiary to receive each one, whether they’re all going to the same person or being spread out among multiple.
This section is where you can include special instructions for how you’d like your executor to distribute your estate. You might want them to meet with each individual named or gather everyone together for a more formal reading of the will. You can also add any notes explaining why you chose each beneficiary for each asset at this stage.
Your signature is the part of your will that legally binds your document. However, just signing it on your own isn’t enough to make it legal. Typically, wills require two witnesses to sign as well. Ideally, these witnesses should be what are called disinterested witnesses, or people who don’t stand to benefit from your will.
Sometimes, your state will require a self-proving affidavit, which also requires two witness signatures and needs to be notarized to be legal. This document certifies you are of sound mind and have the mental capacity to make a will. Self-proving affidavits may be required or optional, depending on your state’s regulations.
After your will is created and filed, store it in a safe place and keep it up-to-date. You should re-evaluate it every couple of years as a general rule of thumb. Once you pass away, your will enters probate, which is simply the formal name for the distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries.
Because creating a will is such an intricate process, you may want to enlist some help to make sure you do it correctly. Most often, this help will come from a certified lawyer who specializes in estate planning.
Hiring a lawyer can be an intimidating task, so looking to your immediate network may be a good starting point. Ask your friends if they’ve worked with an estate planning attorney before, and conduct your own research to find a good fit. If your workplace offers legal plans, enrolling in one will give you access to a network of lawyers who can help with writing a will.
If you die without a will or your will is deemed invalid, your estate will go into probate. The probate court will then reference your state’s intestate succession laws to determine who will receive your assets.
Yes, you can write a will without hiring a lawyer. However, you’ll have to take extra care to:ensure your will meets your state’s regulations. Otherwise, it could be deemed invalid.
Determining the best time to write a will depends on your circumstances. Writing a will is advisable if you are over 18 and have built up any kind of wealth, real estate, or property. Likewise, if you have any children, writing a will can guarantee they are taken care of after your passing.
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