Thinking about your mortality can be difficult. But taking the time to prepare a will is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your family and assets. If you’ve been procrastinating preparing a will, managing legal documents for aging parents, or wondering when to take the step, this guide will walk you through the process.
Here’s how a will works and all the steps you need to know for how to prepare a will.
When to Create a Will
While many people believe creating a will is a task for retirement or estate planning and beyond, that’s not the case. In fact, it’s a good idea for young people to draw up a will, as well. If you have a comma in your bank account and someone in your life, you can benefit from having a will. Here are a few times to consider creating a will:
- You’re getting married.
- You have children or are expecting your first child.
- You have a positive net worth.
- Your life circumstances have changed (you’ve gotten divorced, lost your parents, or experienced another significant life event).
Remember: You can (and should!) update your will later. So even if you create a will when you’re thirty and have just had your first child, you can easily edit previous wills to reflect significant changes in your life.
How to Create a Will: 9 Steps
Now that you know when to create a will, here are a few steps for actually drawing one up:
1. Decide on your approach
Right now, only 40% of American adults have a will. That’s mainly because many people just aren’t sure how to create one. Luckily, preparing a will isn’t as difficult as some other important legal documents. Finding out how much a will costs can help you decide on a path to take. There are basically two ways to prepare a will:
- You can hire an attorney to create one for you
- You can prepare your own will or receive some legal advice with DIY software like LegalZoom
If you have a relatively straightforward estate (no debt and no dependents), you can probably create your own will with DIY software. This software will walk you through the step-by-step process of creating a will and consider any legal considerations unique to your state. Basically, if you’re the kind of person that can comfortably do your taxes on TurboTax (aka you don’t have a lot of confusing exceptions and liabilities), the process of creating a will online shouldn’t be too challenging.
However, if your financial situation is a little more complicated (you have lots of assets or want to establish something like a living trust), it’s wise to hire an estate planning attorney. Asking what is the difference between a will and a trust can also help. Hiring an attorney will cost you more money upfront. But, like doing your own taxes, you’re far more likely guaranteed to walk away with a will that’s legally binding, specific to your state, and guaranteed to protect your assets when you work with a professional who knows the ins and outs of the process.
What information do you need to make a will?
The answer is, not much! First explore the different types of wills. All you need is your state-issued ID and the names and addresses of the people you want to name as a beneficiary and executors—more on that next.
2. Pick your beneficiaries
One of the primary purposes of a will is to name your beneficiaries. Your beneficiary designation will outline who will receive your assets after you die. While your beneficiaries could technically be anyone, most people choose friends or loved ones to name as beneficiaries.
Beneficiaries will inherit assets like your home or other real estate, your money, your life insurance payouts, and more. Remember that you can always update your beneficiaries at a later date.
3. Select your executor
The executor of your will is the person charged with ensuring the wishes laid out in your will are executed. You can choose anyone as the executor of your will, but it’s critical to select someone responsible and reliable.
Some people choose to name their bank or an attorney as executor. One thing many people do not know is that executors should be compensated for performing the duties required of them. This can be lined out in your estate planning documents. Experts suggest a payment of 2-4% of your estate’s assets. For more information, check out this state-by-state guide.
4. Choose a legal guardian for your children
If you have minor children, your will should state your final wishes for their care and guardianship. This requires you to name a legal guardian for your kids. While you don’t have to obtain permission from a friend or family member before naming them a legal guardian, experts advise notifying your guardian of choice.
You may also want to list your guardians in your order of preference, as it’s possible that not all of them would be in a position to take on such a role if you were to die. Finally, consider naming contingent guardians, who could take over guardianship if the people watching your children were to get divorced or die.
5. Be specific about who you want to get what
If you intend to disperse assets in your will, be specific about who gets what. A will is your chance to spell out your final wishes, so try to be as clear as possible so that no one has to interpret the document after you’re gone.
Don’t just leave your estate to your oldest child and trust them to distribute your assets. Specify that your oldest child gets the house, while your daughter gets the family heirloom jewelry, and your third child gets the cars or real estate, etc. While there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to disperse assets, it’s important to be as specific about it as you can.
6. Consider a personal letter
A will is a legal document meant to specify your wishes, but it’s not overly personal. Forget what you’ve seen in the movies. If you want to say more than your will allows, consider adding a personal letter to the will package (and state that it is to be read by the executor). This personal letter could state further wishes, allow you to say goodbye to your family, or communicate anything else that’s on your mind.
7. Have your will witnessed
In most states, the signing of a will needs to be witnessed by two people (most states specify that these witnesses cannot be people who are in your will or will gain anything from your passing). The witnesses must be at least 18 years old. If you’re having an attorney prepare your will, they may be able to furnish a witness for you. Your will also needs to be notarized. Luckily, notarization isn't hard to come by.
8. Store your will securely
Now that you’ve created your will, it’s time to store it somewhere safe and secure. We recommend using Pillar Life. A digital file vault, Pillar allows you to store everything from medical records to legal documents and share them with the people you choose.
Offering best-in-class security and end-to-end encryption, we ensure the safety and security of your will document. If you prefer to go analog, make sure that whatever safe deposit box you choose is accessible by members of your estate or your executor to ensure the process of distributing your assets after you pass is as smooth as possible.
9. Review and update your will as needed
The time may come when you need to change your will. And that’s completely normal. For example, you may want to create a power of attorney or a living will, which will come into play if you’re ever ill or injured and unable to speak on your own behalf.
You may want to update your will after a new marriage, divorce, or birth. Or maybe you have recently discovered what to put in a will and are looking to make some changes. You may just want to revisit the will to make sure everything still looks good. Check back in on your will every few years to make sure it reflects any significant changes and life events and follow the step listed above to amend and certify your will so the most recent version is the one that’s used.
Pillar is Here to Help You Plan for the Next Phase
Ready to create your will and start protecting your family? Now is the time. While it’s never fun to think about what happens after you die, planning is the best way to protect your family and loved ones. Once you’ve created your will and are ready to store it, Pillar Life is here for you.
Start your free 14-day trial now or contact us today to learn more.