The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Will
Do I Need to Create a Will?
No matter how old you are or what your net worth is, you should consider creating a will. If you die without a will, a probate court will decide who will inherit your belongings, take care of your pets, get custody of your children, appoint an executor of your estate, etc. There is no guarantee that the probate court will honor your or your family’s desires for what should happen. However, a valid will can ensure that those matters are decided in accordance with your wishes. If you’re over 18 years of age and are legally considered to be “of sound mind”, there’s nothing stopping you from making a will today from the comfort of your own home.
Can I Create My Own Will Without a Lawyer?
While in the past most people needed a lawyer to create a will, today you don’t need to hire a professional—you can just create a will online in under an hour without leaving your home. Online wills are just as valid as wills drafted by a lawyer, since online will-making services take into account the laws of each state when creating will templates. As a result, you can get an affordable, legally valid will that’s perfectly tailored to your family situation and assets in as little as 15 minutes. Our website has detailed reviews of all the best online will makers on the market today.
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Decide Whether You Need a Lawyer to Create a Will
This may come as a surprise, but most people don’t actually need to hire a lawyer to make a will. If you have a relatively simple estate and a clear vision of which assets you want each of your relatives to inherit, you can easily make a DIY will. On the other hand, if you own property in another country, want to disinherit someone from your will, or have a large amount of debt, you may need to consult a lawyer before you can create a will.
Write a Will Yourself vs Use an Online Will Maker
If you want to create a DIY will, you have three options: writing a will yourself, utilizing a will template, or using an online will-making service to create the document. It’s understandable that unless you’re a lawyer, you should not be attempting to make a will yourself. And we also don’t recommend using will templates. While they are generally free to use, they are not customizable to your situation.
But the third option has numerous benefits:
- Affordable – online wills cost significantly less than wills made by lawyers.
- Simple process – all the questions are written in simple English without any confusing legal jargon.
- State-specific – each will is created in accordance with your state’s laws to ensure its validity.
- Created by professionals – online will services are developed under the guidance of professional attorneys.
- Detailed information – when you’re making a will online, you will be provided with helpful tips, definitions, and other useful information.
If you want to create a will online but worry that it will not be valid, you can consult an attorney who can check the document and ensure its validity. Some online will makers offer free or paid consultations with licensed attorneys.
How to Create a Will
Make a List of Assets That Will be Listed in Your WillBefore you can start drafting a will, you need to compile a list of all the real, financial and personal assets you have. This list can include money in checking and savings accounts, real estate, patents, copyrights, investments (bonds, stocks, etc.), stakes in companies, life insurance, vehicles, family heirlooms, and other possessions. Remember that anything that has value to you can be considered an asset, such as electronics or collectible items. If there’s an asset that you don’t want to list in your will, choose a method that you’ll use to leave that asset to somebody in your life.
State Your Name, Place of Residence and Name Your Immediate Relatives
When you start making a will online, you will first be asked to fill out your full legal name, as well as the city, county, and state where you reside. Keep in mind that online wills are tailored to the laws of each state, so if you move to a different state after you’ve already made a will, it’s best to make a new document to replace the old will.
You will also need to provide the full names of your spouse and all living children, and specify how many children you have.
List Special Bequests
If you want to leave something specific such as a family heirloom or a piece of property you own by yourself to a family member, friend, organization, etc., you should declare these wishes in the special bequests section of the will. Keep in mind that you can’t include assets that have both you and another individual on the title. For instance, if you and your spouse are joint owners of your home, your spouse will automatically inherit your half of the house after you pass away. If your life insurance or retirement account already has listed beneficiaries, you can’t leave those assets to someone else in your will.
Appoint a Digital Assets Representative
Modern wills allow you to select an individual who will gain control of all of your online property after your death. This can include social media pages, email, computer files, and all other digital assets. The person you appoint as your Digital Assets Representative will then be able to close your social media accounts, turn them into memorial pages, or continue running the accounts for you. This section of your will can also include any log-in information that your Digital Assets Representative may need to access your online accounts.
Select the Beneficiaries of Your Will
Will beneficiaries are people who inherit your assets. Most people choose to leave their possessions to their spouse and children, but you can also include other family members, friends, and even organizations and charities in your will. It’s important to be specific when composing your will, so try to clearly state who is getting what. This will help your family avoid confusion and unnecessary disputes over your assets in their time of grief. You can also choose to leave a set dollar amount or a percentage of your estate to each relative.
In addition, you should state alternate beneficiaries in your will in case one or more beneficiaries pass away before you. In the absence of an alternate beneficiary, that person’s share of your estate will usually be split proportionally among your remaining beneficiaries. Keep in mind that if your 401(k) or life insurance policy already lists a beneficiary, your will should not give away that 401(k) or life insurance policy to another person.
Choose Guardians for Your Children and Other Dependents
If you have children who are younger than 18 years of age or other dependents in your care (like elders, individuals with mental illness, or pets), you should appoint a guardian for them in your will. In most cases, the other parent will gain sole custody of the children. However, if he or she is unable to take on this role, you want to appoint someone you trust to care for your children. If you fail to do this, a court will have to appoint a guardian for your dependents, and they might even end up in the foster care system if your relatives and friends are unable or unwilling to become their guardians.
Keep in mind that it’s important to talk to the person you want to choose as a guardian before appointing them in your will. You can also list an alternate guardian just in case. Some people also choose to set aside money for the guardian in their will in order to help cover the cost of their children’s care.
If you plan on leaving any assets to your underage children, you need to appoint somebody to manage those assets until your children turn 18.
Decide Who Will be the Executor of Your Will
A will executor is an individual who will read your will, participate in the probate process, and ensure that your final wishes are carried out. The executor will use your funds to pay off your debts, make gifts on your behalf as specified in your will, and ensure that your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes.
When picking out an executor for your will, try to select a mature, responsible, and trustworthy individual. This person should be able to stand up to your family members and friends in case such a need arises. Most people choose their spouse, an adult child, or a close friend as the executor, but keep in mind that this role could come as a burden in a time of grief. You can appoint your attorney as an executor, but in that case, he or she should receive a fee for doing the job. You can also list a backup executor in your will in case your first choice is unable to carry out the task for any reason.
Signing and Storing Your Online Will
After you’ve made your online will, you generally need to print it out and sign the document to make it legally valid. Each state has its own laws for how a will must be signed, but most states require the testator to sign the will and get the signatures of two witnesses who are not listed as beneficiaries in the document.
Once you’ve signed the will and made it valid, you need to store it in a safe and easily accessible location. Typically, this would be a file cabinet or safe that contains all of your other important documents. Make sure to let your will executor know where he or she can find the will after your death. Inside of your will, you can also include a list of passwords and other log-in information for your digital property, like your social media accounts, and a list of all the cryptocurrency you own.
Updating Your WillAt least every five years, it’s advisable to check your will and update it if necessary. However, if you have a major life event such as moving to a different state, selling or buying real estate, getting married or divorced, or having a child, you should change your will to reflect those changes as soon as possible.
Common Problems You May Encounter When Setting Up a Will
- Disinheriting a close relative. If you want to disinherit someone—like a spouse or a child—by not leaving that person anything in your will, it could prove to be legally problematic. You need to check the laws in your state regarding this matter. It may also be a good idea to state your reasons for disinheriting the person in your will, particularly if it’s a person who is traditionally expected to receive a substantial chunk of your estate, such as a spouse or biological child. Clarifying your reasons for disinheriting somebody will help your executor faithfully execute your last wishes and defend your will from any legal challenges.
- Not taking into account beneficiaries of bank accounts and insurance policies. A will is not the only document that designates who will inherit your assets after your death. For instance, people listed as the beneficiaries of your bank accounts and insurance policies will still inherit those assets even if you decide to leave everything you own to another beneficiary in your will.
- Listing funeral wishes in your will. In most cases, a will is read days or even weeks after a person’s death and funeral. Thus, if you have specific funeral wishes you’d like your family to take into account, you should put them in a separate letter to your family.
- Not understanding the rules of joint property ownership. If you own a piece of property jointly with someone and that person is stated on the title, this individual will automatically inherit your share of the property upon your death, so you should keep this in mind.
Final Words About Making a Will
If your estate is not too complicated, the best way to make a will is to create it online using an online will maker service. Online wills are inexpensive, simple to make, and legally valid. To create a will, you need to create a list of your assets, write down your name, address, and a list of your immediate relatives, list special bequests, appoint a digital assets representatives, decide which assets will be inherited by which beneficiaries, choose guardians for your dependents, and select an executor. Once your will is ready, you need to get witness signatures, sign the document in accordance with your state’s requirements, and store it in a secure location where the executor can find it. To find more information about the process of making a will, visit the last will and testament guide page on our website.