A last will is a legal document that lays down the distribution of your significant assets, liabilities, and property and appoints guardians to care for your children in case of your death. Your estate plan will protect you, your family members, and your legacy. It is one of the most fundamental parts of estate planning that really helps in the probate process.
A well-written and duly prepared will allows for protecting your assets, surviving spouse, and heirs after you pass away. By explicitly outlining your estate plans in a legally binding document, you can rest assured that your wishes will not be ignored.
Writing a basic will can seem like a daunting task, but we can help you find out how to make a simple will in this complete guide.
Three Common Ways to Create Your Own Will
1. Using an Online Service or a Will-Making Platform
This is an easy and cost-effective way to draft a simple will. FormsPal is a reputable online service that can give you access to lots of legal forms and a last will and testament maker and instruct you on how to make your will legally valid and in accordance with state law.
You can also set up a medical power of attorney at the same time as you create your will, customize it to your needs, and make it state-specific so that it cannot turn out legally invalid.
2. Writing a Simple Will Yourself
Although handwritten wills (known as holographic wills) are still permitted in some states, it is always preferable to write your last will and testament in a typed document to avoid any trouble with the probate.
3. Using a DIY Will Kit and Online Templates
You can make your will with the help of physical DIY will kits or templates. However, these kits cost money and are paper-based, meaning they are limited in the number of times you can fill them out and are more difficult to change than their online alternatives.
You can use a last will template we offer if you want to fill the document out yourself. It contains all major sections a proper will should have and comes in PDF and Word formats.
Nine Simple Steps to Making Your Will
Making a will is a major life event, and a basic will should reflect your wishes unambiguously. A will must be prepared in a sound mind, without compulsion, and according to your state laws. The following steps will ensure that you won’t miss any vital details when creating a will.
1. Designate an Executor
A spouse, adult child, trusted friend, or a professional attorney can serve as an executor who will administer and execute your will the way you envision it. Such a personal representative will handle the distribution of your property and assets and communicate regularly with the beneficiaries.
Also, the probate court usually supervises executors to ensure the will is duly executed and all the deceased’s wishes are fulfilled.
2. Name the Beneficiaries
Your beneficiaries will inherit the assets after your death and may include your spouse, children, relatives, and close friends, among others. You need to specify the full names of your beneficiaries in order to avoid any uncertainties.
You can also assign even charitable organizations as beneficiaries if you wish to donate a part of your estate for a good cause.
3. Establish a Guardian for Your Minor Children
Your estate planning should contain this clause if you have young children. Providing for your child’s care in the sudden event of death is part of being a good parent.
Consider all your options before assigning a guardian for your children. You should take into account their financial capabilities, values, beliefs, and parenting style.
4. Organize and Designate Your Assets
Organizing and designating your assets will simplify the process of listing them in your estate planning document. You can identify your beneficiaries for accounts such as life insurance policies and make things easier for your representative. Your assets can include:
- Real estate property
- Retirement accounts
- Cash-checking and savings accounts
- Business ownership
- Personal items
- Coveted possessions
- Family heirlooms
- Stocks, mutual funds, bonds, or other investments
- Intellectual property
5. Get Witnesses to Sign Your Will
The witnesses you select for your will should not be beneficiaries and should be of legal age. Have at least two witnesses sign the will.
6. Sign Your Will
A written will is not legally valid unless it is signed and dated by the person writing it. The will should be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses. In Louisiana, you will also have to notarize your document.
It would also be beneficial to execute a self-proving affidavit, which is a notarized document that attests to the validity of the will made by the will-maker.
7. Write a Letter With Your Will
An accompanying letter with your will may help you say some final words of love and encouragement to your dear ones. The letter can also come in handy if the will has ambiguous statements in it, and the court needs to understand the deceased’s intentions.
It is essential to mention that the letter is an expression of sentiment that can explain why the beneficiaries have been bestowed with particular possessions or property of the testator.
8. Store Your Will Safely
The probate process usually requires the court to have access to the original will before processing it. Storing your will in a safe place, therefore, becomes imperative. Avoid keeping it in a safety deposit box in a bank where accessing the document would require additional authorization.
It’s an excellent option to store your will in a legacy drawer, a waterproof and fireproof safe that can be installed in your house.
9. Update Your Last Will as Needed
Keep revisiting and reviewing your will once every 2–3 years as your life and circumstances keep changing. The reasons to modify your initial will may include things like:
- Getting divorced or married
- Starting a new family
- Inheriting or acquiring a new business or property
- Evolving relations with an existing beneficiary or a new person
- Demise of your executor or beneficiaries
If the changes you need to make are minor, it is recommended to use a codicil and attach it to your will. But if lots of things have to be changed, it is better to draft an entirely new will.
Why Making a Will Is Important?
Making a will should be on your to-do list because it provides security to your family and loved ones in case of your sudden death. An executor or personal representative can ensure that your estate is managed while your loved ones are still grieving.
Your estate planning can also address critical matters like deciding on a guardian for your children and distributing your finances amongst the beneficiaries. It can also help you reduce the tax burden when you provide gifts and donate to charitable organizations via your will.
The primary intention behind making estate plans is to ensure that your family is protected and does not run into any complications in the absence of a legally valid will. If you do not make a will and die intestate, the responsibility falls on the state to oversee the disposal of your property and assets.
Common Terms Used in Wills
You might be unacquainted with some terminologies required in creating your will. Understanding these legal terms used in wills can help through the process.
- Testator: A testator is a person who is making a will.
- Beneficiary: A beneficiary is anyone who receives any inheritance under a will.
- Intestate: When a person dies intestate, it means they die without making a will.
- Executor: An executor is a person in charge of distributing the estate of a will after the testator’s death.
- Guardian: A guardian is a person whom a testator has assigned in a will to care for the minor children.
- Probate: Probate is a legal process through which the court examines, approves, and enacts the terms of a will.
- Estate planning attorney: An estate attorney addresses all concerns of a specific person regarding their will and ensures all the wishes set out in the estate plan are duly met. The attorney should have a thorough understanding of federal and state laws to disperse the estate by curating a complete estate plan.
How Much Does Preparing a Will Cost?
Curating a comprehensive, well-thought-out, and complete estate plan is one of the most intelligent things and a blessing in disguise for your loved ones. The cost of your will depends on what process you choose to make your will.
Your circumstances, relations, family, and near and dear ones all need to be considered when creating a will. However, the costs involved in making a will can be a matter of concern, which is why it is essential to understand which approach to opt for while making your own will.
The two most significant factors that impact the amount for making your will are the size and complexity of your estate. How you go about completing your will affects the cost as well.
If your accumulations and relations are not complex, you can opt for a simple will and write it on your own or use a template, which is free of cost. On the other hand, you can use an online will maker, which usually costs significantly less than hiring a legal professional. However, if you have a large estate and accumulation of wealth, you should consider hiring an experienced attorney to make sure your will is made correctly.