8 Minute Read
We know making a will isn’t fun to think about. Right?
None of us are promised tomorrow, but many of us still live like we’re invincible. A 2017 survey found that nearly 6 in 10 American adults don’t have a will.(1) That’s crazy! The truth is, your loved ones depend on you to make a will—even if you don’t own multiple homes or consider yourself wealthy.
Why Making a Will Is Important
Each state has its own laws when it comes to settling the affairs of someone without a will. If you don’t have one or if it’s determined to be invalid because it wasn’t signed or done the right way, a judge will appoint an administrator. Usually, they appoint the spouse and then the children to serve as a personal representative, but it’s not something you really want to leave to chance, is it?
A will is the last gift you’ll leave your family and loved ones. It makes the management of your assets clear and simple for everyone involved. If you don’t have a will in place when you die, there’s no guarantee your wishes will be followed.
Plus, dying without a will puts an unnecessary strain on your family. Not only will they be grieving, but they’ll also be dealing with the mess you’ve just left them—potentially for years. And they’ll be stuck with a pile of legal fees to get it all sorted out. Basically, when we fail to make a will, we’re not putting our loved ones first. Honestly, we can do better than that!
Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will?
Don’t let the idea of making a will fill you with dread or visions of long, expensive lawyer visits. Most household estates aren’t that complicated and don’t need an attorney.
What does complicated look like? In some rare situations, you may want to talk with an estate attorney because . . .
You have a large estate.
You have assets in a different country.
You wish to remove someone from your will.
You have concerns about someone contesting your will or claiming you weren’t of sound mind when you signed it.
While these events and situations are not common, they’re complicated enough to get some professional guidance from an estate attorney—but obviously, this will cost you.
If you’re looking to make a simple will to take care of basic things like your property, children, investments and personal items, then you can do it online.
Making a Will Online
The easiest and most cost-effective way to go about making a will nowadays is to go online and use a legal forms company. All you need to do is fill in your information, and the will is tailored to you. Did you know that when lawyers draft wills, they use a form similar to the ones online services use to fill in your details? So, don’t feel bad about cutting out the middleman. You can do this!
Just remember to choose the correct state you’re living in and follow the rules when it comes to having your will signed and dated by appropriate witnesses. Failing to do this can invalidate your will!
A will produced online is just as legal as one a lawyer produced. But you can still consult a lawyer when using these forms if you have any questions or concerns.
How to Make a Will
1. Decide what property to include in your will.
Go ahead and gather up all the paper work for your home and any other real estate you own. You’ll also want a list of all bank, investment and retirement accounts—complete with account numbers, passwords and links to their online sites if available.
2. Select your beneficiaries.
Next, you’ll decide how your assets will be distributed and who will get them. Consider all the possibilities and plan accordingly. If your spouse is still living, you may just leave everything to them, but if neither of you is around, how will you divide up your assets and estate?
You can leave an equal percentage or specified dollar amount to each of your children as you see fit. Whatever decisions you make, write them down in the will. You can designate certain items for certain people too—like giving the family grandfather clock to your oldest son because you noticed he always liked winding that thing.
3. Choose an executor for your will.
The executor is the person who will read the will and see that your wishes explained in the will are carried out. The executor will handle all those special giftings like the grandfather clock and use the funds in your estate to take care of paying any debts you have left.
You want this person to be especially level-headed, ethical and responsible—someone unable to be intimidated by strong-willed family members. You may want to choose one of your adult children, a family friend or an attorney to be your executor. Normally, they will be paid for this duty out of the funds in the estate. Each state has specific laws about how to handle the compensation. Also, be sure to choose a backup candidate, just in case.
4. Name guardians for your children.
If you have children who are minors, you need to decide who their guardians will be. Who will take care of them after you’re gone? If you have the means, you can even make provisions to compensate the person taking on this responsibility. That way, you can help with the expenses of another person joining their household.
Be sure to give the guardians access and authority to work with any insurance or savings accounts you’ve established with your children in mind, like 529 college savings funds or a savings account for a car. You want to make sure this money goes to pay for the things you’ve saved it for.
5. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
Be careful! A written will is not valid unless it’s signed and dated by the one writing the will (the testator—yep, it’s a thing) and two witnesses. Be sure these witnesses are not receiving anything in the will, or they’ll be disqualified.
No state requires the will itself to be notarized, but some states want a document (called a self-proving affidavit) from the witnesses stating they saw you sign the will (or saw someone sign it for you at your request). This document will also acknowledge that you were in your right mind and signed willingly. When a self-proving affidavit is attached to the will, it will save a lot of time in the probate process, because the document will serve as the testimony from the witnesses. That way, they don’t have to be present in court.(2)
6. Let everyone know beforehand.
It’s a really good idea to alert everyone involved ahead of time. For the executor and guardians, be sure to get their permission before tagging them with these responsibilities. They certainly need to be capable—but also willing—to carry this load.
While we’re talking about letting your wishes be known, do yourself a favor and read your will to your beneficiaries before you’re gone. Trust us—taking away the element of surprise could save a lot of headaches for them later on.
7. Store your will in your legacy drawer.
Dave recommends you put together a legacy drawer to store your will and other important documents. A legacy drawer is a simple file or folder that holds all the documents your family would need if something happened to you. Make sure it’s waterproof and fireproof. It should contain the original version of your (signed and witnessed) will, estate plans, insurance policies, tax returns, funeral instructions, passwords and more. Like we said earlier, this isn’t exactly fun. But it’s a necessary step to ensure you’ve protected your loved ones.
Regardless of how you do it, making a will is something you need to do, no matter what stage of life you’re in. The truth is, we’re all going to die someday. So, why not leave a legacy of intentionality and generosity as your final, most meaningful gift you give to your family?
As we’ve seen, having a will is a critical part of protecting your family and your future. Our friends at Mama Bear Legal Forms offer a will package that gives you peace of mind for the future. Create your will in 20 minutes or less!
To find other types of protection you may need, check out our Coverage Checkup Tool.