A poorly written or out-of-date will can be costly and ruin an otherwise well-planned estate.
Here’s a simple guide to get started and complete your will in 11 simple steps:
- Hire an Estate Planning Attorney. Individuals or families with relatively simple financial situations may be able to use an online, reputable software program to complete their wills. However, many situations require an estate planning attorney, such as blended families.
- Choose your Beneficiaries. A big mistake people make when planning their estate is failing to name or update beneficiaries on key accounts that work with the plans outlined in their wills. The beneficiary designation on an account supersedes the will, but it’s good to be consistent.
- Name an Executor. The executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes expressed in your will.
- Select a Guardian for Your Minor Children. It’s common to name multiple guardians, in case one of them named isn’t able to accept the responsibility of guardianship.
- Be Specific About Your Bequests. One of the most time-consuming aspects of creating a will can be deciding which assets to include and determining who will get what.
- Be Realistic About your Bequests. Practically consider how assets will be distributed. A big reason children stop speaking after a parent’s death is because of boilerplate language directing tangible assets, such as artwork or jewelry, to be divided equally among children.
- Attach a Letter of Last Instruction. You can attach an explanatory letter to your will that can serve as a personal way to say goodbye and also provide additional details about certain wishes.
- Sign the Will Properly. If you don’t, a will may be declared invalid. Witnesses must sign your will, and in many states, the witnesses can’t be under 18 and those who stand to inherit (“interested parties”).
- Keep Your Will in a Safe and Accessible Spot. Make certain that someone you trust knows where to find your will and other important papers and passwords to financial institutions.
- Review and Keep Your Up-to-date. Wills should be updated every five years or so, or sooner if you have a major life event, such as the birth or adoption of a new child or grandchild, a divorce, or the death of a spouse or parent.
- Add Other Important Estate Planning Documents. A will by itself may not meet all of your estate planning needs. A trust is another estate planning tool that lets you transfer assets when and how you want. A living will communicates your desires for medical treatment or a power of attorney that allows a third party to make financial and legal decisions, along with the will and should be your next step after writing your will.