Your assets are one of the most crucial items you need to resolve as you age. Estate planning becomes essential in this situation.
The most crucial stage in estate planning is writing a will, but as of 2021, 67% of American adults reported not having one.
This article is for you if you’re one of the many people who still need to make a will or if you want to get started. We’ll go over how to write a will, and typical blunders to avoid.
Step-By-Step Of Creating A Will
1. Look for an Estate Planning Attorney or Use a Do-it-Yourself Software Program
People or families with straightforward financial situations can create their wills using reliable web software. Investopedia lists the following software applications as those to take into account:
- Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker & Trust
- US Legal Wills
- Trust & Will
- Total Legal
- Do Your Own Will
- Rocket Lawyer
However, many circumstances necessitate hiring an estate planning lawyer. Although you can create documents using software and download trusts or other forms, an estate planning lawyer can assist you if you have questions about properly filling out, signing, and notarizing these documents.
2. Choose an executor
The person in charge of managing your estate is the executor or personal representative. This person needs to be trustworthy, accountable, and well-organized because administering an estate requires a lot of documentation.
This person should be contacted beforehand to confirm their interest in the position. Tell them where to find your will, insurance policies, and online account passwords, among other crucial documents.
3. Make records of your property, including debt
Make a thorough list to guide in deciding who receives what as a will covers all of the testator’s real and personal property.
Real property includes land, houses, and other immovable objects
Personal property includes bank accounts, stocks, family heirlooms, and other items.
Remember that you can only bequeath things you own; if you own something with someone else, you can only bequeath your portion. If you co-own a vacation home with your best friend, you are only permitted to leave your part of the property in your will.
Any debt you have will be passed on to beneficiaries if not covered by your remaining assets.
Debt includes mortgages, car loans, credit cards, tax debts, personal debts, and medical bills.
Make sure your beneficiaries know your debt situation so they can make arrangements to reduce it.
4. Choose your beneficiaries
Beneficiaries are the people who, following your will, will receive your real and personal property. If your primary beneficiaries die away before you, you should also choose backup beneficiaries.
5. Consider what will happen to your children
It’s customary for the other parent to inherit custody of the minor children when one dies, but if the other parent passes away or is incapable, it’s crucial to name a replacement.
- Consider how you would like to raise your kids if you or the other parent were to pass away.
- The names of any minor children’s legal guardians (under 18).
- Consider listing a backup if your first guardianship selection cannot take on the role.
It’s important to speak with your chosen guardian(s) to make sure they will agree to take charge and take care of your children because of the responsibility of this position.
6. Make sure your pets have a home
Even though for many people, pets are family members, they are legally considered personal property. You can specify who should be in charge of your pets and any particular maintenance instructions in your will.
You should check with your chosen pet guardians to see whether they are willing to take in your furry, scaled, or feathery family members, just like you would with any guardian for small children.
7. Protect your digital legacy
It’s important to think about what you want to happen to your social media accounts, significant accounts, and up-to-date websites when you pass away. Ensure that the right individuals have access to important login information, such as passwords or security questions. Your sensitive information can be centralized with the help of a password manager, making it simpler to transfer. Please provide your phone PIN and computer password for the persons you choose to access these accounts.
You can now choose how some websites, like Facebook, will handle your page when you’re gone. However, you should still specify your wishes in your will so your executor or other cherished individuals can manage your digital legacy per your preferences.
8. Put it on paper
Here are two useful tips to help you write your will.
Be specific: Remember to let readers decide how you want your will to be interpreted. When determining who receives what, use precise names and clear phrasing.
Be realistic: To avoid disagreements over dividing tangible assets equally, be aware of which items, such as furniture or works of art, you can leave to specified beneficiaries.
9. Sign Your Will Properly
A judge could declare a will invalid if it is not carried out correctly. Your will must be witnessed, and in many states, they cannot be the beneficiaries. Additionally, your witnesses need to be at least 18 years old.
They should be individuals most likely to be present while you aren’t. The judge could want to invite a witness to testify if something goes wrong and a court challenges your will. States also have different requirements for how many witnesses a judge can call.
10. Store Your Will Safely
Make certain that a person you can trust knows where to find your will, any other critical documents, and the passwords to your financial accounts. The original copy might be kept in a fireproof safe.
In some circumstances, you can electronically execute and store wills. These electronic wills, or e-wills, are only legally binding provided they adhere to a few conditions: they must be in text form, not audio or video, and must follow state regulations governing whether witnesses must be in person or be present virtually.
11. Change or update your will as needed
If you need to change your will, you can include a codicil, which must be signed by you and any necessary witnesses following state regulations. If your will requires more than a small adjustment, you can rewrite it from scratch.
You must provide revisions that reflect any modifications you make to your will’s beneficiaries or executor. However, you are not required by law to let them know that their position in your will has altered. Unless you pass away and are still specified by name in your will, they are unaware of this knowledge.
Regularly review your will. You can remain on top of life changes by doing this.
12. Abide by state laws to validate your will
Most states demand that you sign your will in front of witnesses. The number of witnesses required, who may testify, and any other requirements are governed by state law, which varies from state to state. Be sure you abide by the laws in your state. If you modify or update your will, ensure all copies accurately reflect the required witnesses and sign the modified will.
Other rules for will validation are
- When making a will, you must be of sound mind.
- If you weren’t coerced into making the will, no decisions were made for you.
- Review the details below to learn when and how to modify a will. Remember that a will should be revised as your life changes because it is a living document.
Documents Needed for Will Preparation
To get ready to draft your will, you don’t need to do anything. Starting it up can be quick and simple. It will be easier for you to get through the procedure if you prepared its essentials and have the following information ready before you start:
- Birth and death certificates
- Marriage licenses or divorce certificates
- Deed(s) to property
- Mortgage(s) information
- Insurance policy information – be sure you have beneficiaries designated and current on each insurance policy
- List of all bank accounts – institutions and account numbers
- Investment portfolio – account numbers
- Funeral plans and burial plot information
- Names/phone numbers/emails/firms/addresses for your:
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Will Writing
When writing your will, it’s important to be cautious and avoid making mistakes, as it’s a very important legal document. Here are some of the common mistakes you should watch out for when writing your will, according to AARP;
- It needs to be signed properly. The will must be signed by two witnesses who were present when you signed it in addition to being signed by you as the will’s maker. Neither can receive a benefit. Most states will limit or even cancel any donation made to a witness-beneficiary.
- Does not dispose of all property. DIY will frequently omit the “residuary provision,” which collects any assets that might have been forgotten or not mentioned in the will.
- Creates joint tenancy assets. These enable a person to take over the ownership of real estate after the death of the original grantor or to assist in writing checks on a bank account, for example. Unfortunately, these agreements may have unforeseen effects that lead to lawsuits.
- Needs to be clearer descriptions. Give a certain relative a keepsake that you have. What happens if you have relatives with names close to an item you already have? Such things may lead to resentment.
- Does not take into consideration property passing outside of the will. One can arrange for various assets (such as life insurance, pensions, bank accounts, etc.) to pass straight to the designated recipient. This is one instance where seeking expert assistance may be advisable because the will does not govern these assets.
- Fails to anticipate the death of beneficiaries or the executor. If any of these people pass away before you, it is crucial to designate other beneficiaries or an alternate executor.
Writing a will can be difficult because it forces you to consider your mortality and the worth of your assets once you pass away. A will is one of the most significant legal documents you will ever write once it is finished. Will ensure that your final desires are carried out before your death.
Therefore, it’s crucial to set them up as soon as possible to ensure that your wishes and family are protected in the event of the unavoidable.
To learn more about other important legal documents that you need to prepare, you may also visit our Comprehensive Guide To Power of Attorney and article on Understanding Reverse Mortgage.
How much does it cost to make a will with a lawyer?
A typical online transaction will cost between $20 and $100, according to AARP. You can purchase a conventional will and testament on pre-made forms for $5 to $20 at OfficeMax, Office Depot, or Staples.
In contrast, a lawyer may bill you between $100 and $1,000 to draft a will, depending on where in the nation you reside and how complicated your circumstances are.
How to make a will that cannot be contested?
The Elder Law Answers suggests using a no-contest clause.
A no-contest clause, often known as an “in terrorem clause,” is one of the best ways to stop someone from contesting your will. This will only work if you’re prepared to give perhaps an irate family member something of value.
What Happens If I Die Without a Will?
If you passed away without a will, your estate will be held by the probate court, which will decide who will inherit your possessions and assets.