Tips And Guidelines To Writing Your Will
It’s the topic NOBODY likes to think about. If you’re healthy, it’s uncomfortable to contemplate your demise. However, denying your mortality doesn’t change the fact that someday you will die.
It can happen far sooner than you realize. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States year after year, with cancer taking the second place on the list. However, in 2020 COVID-19 has become the third most common cause of death in America, while unintentional injuries and accidents took the fourth spot.Unfortunately, these statistics prove that you can never know what day will become your last, as deaths caused by COVID-19 and accidents are almost always sudden. In light of this, failing to make a will is the biggest biggest estate planning mistake you can make.
Let’s pretend that tomorrow, you made a sudden exit from this world. What would happen to your dependents? How would your assets be distributed? Without a legally-binding document outlining your wishes, the courts will decide for you. Loved ones may engage in bitter, protracted legal battles over your estate – is that what you want?
Of course not. That’s why it’s important to have a will on file – even if you’re currently healthy. In this post, we’ll walk you through the process of crafting your first will & testament. You can find even more resources for making a will on our last will and testament guide page.
What Is A Will, And What Does It Do?
A will is a legally-binding document that details your last wishes. It obligates the state and next-of-kin to distribute property in the manner you dictate. They can also determine who gains custody of any minor children. While local laws and unforeseen circumstances can limit their effectiveness, having a will trumps NOT having one.
Without a will, the state can divvy up your estate however it sees fit. Loved ones may bicker, argue, or even sue each other. Estranged relatives may try to claim what ought to belong to your dearest loved ones. Your children may end up in the care of someone you don’t trust. A last will & testament avoids all these scenarios.
Even if you have an uncomplicated situation, it still makes sense to have a will. Without one, dividing your estate can take months. With a last will & testament in place, the process moves much faster.
Lastly, properly planning the dispersal of your estate can maximize the amount your loved ones receive. By structuring inheritances properly, you can minimize taxes. In doing so, you’ll ensure your family gets the financial boost they need to thrive long after you’re gone.
Steps to Writing a Will
Once you get past the whole “contemplating your own death” thing, there’s another barrier to overcome – legalese. Like any legal niche, last wills & testaments can get confusing. Lawyers love to cram these documents full of arcane terms that most people can’t get their head around.
Now, it’s possible to write wills in a fashion that’s straightforward and easy-to-understand. However, there’s no way to do so without jargon you’ve probably never encountered before. Below, we’ll explain the most important terms you’ll come across while writing your will.
The creator and subject of the will – that’s you.
A person/party who receives property via your will.
This provision allows you to grant property to a beneficiary.
The person/people who will assume care for any minor children.
Amendments made to your will after its initial filing.
The person tasked with dispersing your estate after your passing.
A structure that manages assets until its beneficiary reaches a certain age
A levy imposed on the transfer of assets from a deceased to a living party.
A levy imposed on gifts made by living persons to others, usually family members.
Help Writing a Will: Will Making Tips
Ready to take on the challenge of crafting your own will? We’re not going to lie – this can be a physically and emotionally draining process. However, there are ways to make the process go smoother. Below, we’ll share our top five tips for creating your last will & testament.
Use A Software Program/Web Service To Draft Your Will
In the 21st century, you no longer have to write your will from scratch. Scores of the best will maker software programs now make the process as simple as filling in text fields. Lawyers are no longer necessary, as the finances of most Americans are relatively uncomplicated.
If you fall into this category, you no longer have to pay a lawyer thousands in legal fees to construct an airtight last will & testament. Now, you can spend less than $100 on a program that covers 99% of situations. The best online willmaker software options out there include Nolo by Quicken and USLegalWills.com.
If you’re a business owner or have over one million in assets, we do advise working with a lawyer. But, if even you aren’t, having a lawyer quickly review your will isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Don’t Wait To Figure Out Who Your Beneficiaries/Guardians Will Be
For many people, selecting beneficiaries and guardians is a simple matter. Most plan on transferring their assets to their surviving partner. Widows plan on splitting it evenly among their kids. If one parent dies, their spouse gets the kids – and so on.
However, if your family situation is a bit more complicated, you should sort things out ASAP. If you’re a widow, or someone who went through a rough divorce, who will take care of your kids? Does one of your adult children need more financial help than the others?
Don’t wait for a health scare or a near-death experience to push you to take action. If applicable, figure out which of your heirs can take on the responsibility of raising kids. Speak with them beforehand – you don’t want to foist this on someone without their prior knowledge.
Similarly, if you plan to bequeath your home, ensure that potential recipients are willing/able to take on homeownership. Property ownership comes with responsibilities (e.g., property taxes, liability, etc.) they might not be willing to bear. Make sure that you talk to potential heirs before naming one as the benefactor.
You should also remember about your pets when writing a will. It’s crucial to find a person who is willing and able to take good care of your pets if you pass away before them. If a friend or relative agrees to become a guardian to your pets in the case of your death, you should list them as a pet guardian in your will. Many people also leave money to the pet guardian to help alleviate some or all expenses associated with pet care.
Being An Executor Is Tough Work – Choose & Compensate Them Well
Once you’re gone, you’re gone. As such, you’ll need someone to act on your behalf when the time comes. Someone you trust.
Being an executor involves hours of brutal, thankless work. It starts with organizing your funeral and ends with them dispersing your estate. However, despite what it says, “long lost” family members will try to find “anything” that entitles them to a portion of your estate.
As a result, you’ll want to ensure that your executor is a responsible party. For months after your death, they’ll be carrying out functions essential to the orderly transfer of your assets. According to experts, you should pay them a fee equal to 3-5% the value of your estate. Given the countless phone calls, internet research, and lengthy legal hearings they’ll endure, it’s the least you can do.
Be Painfully Specific About What Your Beneficiaries Get
If there’s a legal loophole your long-estranged uncle can exploit, he’ll find it. To prevent the misinterpretation of your well-meaning words, you must explicitly state who gets what. Don’t make assumptions: If you want one of your children – who makes much less than their other siblings – to get half your estate, say so.
Also, don’t assume your partner will manage your assets the same way you would. If you want your kids to have a portion of your estate, make a provision concerning that. By creating a Testamentary Trust, you can rest assured they will be taken care of, no matter what your spouse does with his/her share.
Sign Your Will
Once you’ve completed your will, you need to sign it in accordance with your state’s requirements. In most states, testators are required to sign their wills in the presence of two witnesses who also need to sign the document. People who are listed in the document as beneficiaries or executors generally cannot act as witnesses. Some states also require wills to be notarized. Remember to check the laws of your state before signing your will to ensure its validity.
Safeguard Your Will
What good is a will if it gets lost? Papers, flash drives, and the like can easily get misplaced during moves or home renovations. Worst of all, a fire/flood can ruin many hours of hard work, forcing you to start anew.
If you prefer to have a hard copy, we recommend storing your last will & testament somewhere secure, like a bank or fireproof safe. A digital copy of your will can be stored at an online will maker digital vault for an annual fee as loong as you need. Find a way to relay passwords/lock combinations to your executor before/upon your death. As of 2021, blockchain wills are not yet considered legal in the US, but in the future, you might be able to use blockchain technology to create, store, and update your will.
Plan For The End So You Can Enjoy The Present
No matter who you are, how much money you have, or where you live, one day you will die, and there’s no way to change this. What’s even worse, you can’t know when you’ll die – it can happen tomorrow, 30 years from now, or at any point in between. However, you can help make that tough time a little easier for your family and friends to get through when it inevitably comes by creating a last will and testament. This way, your loved ones won’t need to go to court, pay for an attorney, or fight about who gets different parts of your estate. Today, you can easily make a will online in as little as 15 minutes for under $100 and save your family lots of time, money, and emotional suffering. So what are you waiting for?