By Daniel Bucherer, Contributor, Fea Money Financial Literacy school
So you’re ready to create your will, but do you know how to actually do it? Let’s take a look at a few key steps to follow.
1. Evaluate Your Life
It may seem a bit morbid and will almost certainly be very uncomfortable, but doing an extensive inspection of your life, both personally and financially, will help you develop what you need to prepare a will. This is important whether you choose to prepare the document yourself or use a lawyer. If you’re creating your own will, you’ll definitely need to have a firm understanding of what should be listed. If you’re visiting a lawyer to help you prepare, you’ll want to go into the meeting with a concrete list so you can have an informed, productive meeting.
Some things to consider:
- Your family. For example, how large is it? Do you have children? Do you have custodial care of an adult?
- Any accounts you have, whether they are checking, savings, or otherwise
- Any properties you own
- Any other large items you own, including vehicles, boats, or RVs
- Whether you are married or own these items in conjunction with another person
- Any retirement plans or life insurance policies you have
- Any and all financial instruments you have, including stocks, bonds, or private interests in businesses
- Any pets you have
- Possessions that are meaningful to you including jewelry, clothing, or furniture
There are a variety of different worksheets that can help you formulate the best way to prepare a will and ensure that all your bases are covered.
2. Decide Who Will Prepare Your Will
You don’t necessarily need a legal professional to help you write a will; you can do it yourself. If you decide to use a legal professional, you may pay more but have some guarantee that the will is correct. On the other hand, there are a number of websites now that will allow you to create a will for very little money. Additionally, look at your benefits package at your workplace. Many businesses now offer a legal benefit, which may help defray the cost of writing your will.
3. Write Your Will!
It’s time to get it done! With all your ducks in a row, you’ll have to do a few things whether you choose to go with a lawyer or not.
- Select an executor: The executor of your will is in charge of ensuring the document is executed. There will be a defined place on a will form for their name. Ensure that you have spoken to them about this role before you put them on the form. There will also be a place to designate compensation for the executor. If you are selecting a law firm as executor, there will be a fee attached. However, if you have selected a friend or relative, it may be more difficult. Remember that being the executor of a will can be difficult and closing a will can be a tough slog. Compensation isn’t out of the ordinary.
- Select your beneficiaries: If your family situation is straightforward, it likely won’t be terribly difficult to select the beneficiaries of your will. More than likely, you’ll want your spouse or children to inherit everything. However, if something is different, be sure you spell it out. Beneficiaries are those that benefit from broad disbursement.
- Select specific items: You can select individuals to receive specific items as well. If you’d like to ensure that your brother inherits your dad’s necklace, make sure you say this. No item is too small to include.
- Select who should not be included: More important than who should be included. If you do not spell out who should not be included, they may think they were forgotten and challenge the will in court.
- Select guardianship for your children: Ensure you lay out who should have guardianship of your children. Additionally, consider naming a backup in case your chosen guardians cannot accept when your will goes into force.
4. Sign Your Will
You can prepare your will at a different time than when you sign it. When you are ready to sign it, be sure that your witnesses are lined up and ready to watch you as well. Additionally, if you are not using a law firm, ensure that you have a notary public available to notarize your document. Typically, law firms have this service available.
5. More to Say?
The movies have glamorized wills quite a bit. On the big screen, a family usually gathers for a dramatic reading of the document, or perhaps watches a film created before the person passed away. In reality, this does not often happen. Wills are generally cold, legal documents and are interpreted and actuated by the executor. If you want to say more, however, write a letter and attach it to the will. You can write any number of letters to a number of different individuals. This is particularly useful for passing guardianship of your children to others. Perhaps you’d like to include a letter about how you’d like to see your children raised.
6. Put It Somewhere Extremely Safe and Known
Wills are not a secret. They need to be kept in a secure place where those who need to get to them can, quickly and easily. Your will will also be added to the file of the jurisdiction in which it was created and, if you used a lawyer, they might keep a copy as well. If you rent a lock box at a bank, your will is an excellent addition. If you keep a safe at home, you can add the will there. Either way, ensure that the executor knows how to access it.
7. You’re Not Done
You should always be thinking about how your life changes could affect the way your will functions. Perhaps you now own more property or had a falling out with a family member. Be sure to edit your will. Additionally, you should give thought to a living will (also known as an advanced directive) and a power of attorney.
And there you have it. The key here is doing your research. Planning and forethought will keep you from forgetting key items in your will.
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