A Checklist for Making a Will
Writing a will may seem like something for our grandparents or the very rich; you may even feel like you don’t need a will. The truth is, we all need a will or some form of estate planning plan for caring for our loved ones when we are no longer here to do it ourselves.
Thinking about preparing a will can be overwhelming. Will preparation can cause significant anxiety and while the process can seem daunting, using a will preparation checklist can significantly decrease your anxiety.
Who Should Have a Will
You don’t have to be rich or elderly to need a will. If any of these sound like you, then creating a will should become a priority.
- If you’re 18 or older.
- If you own a house or other property.
- If you have a career.
- If you have any kind of savings or investments.
- If you have children or other dependents.
No matter what your age or season of life, it’s an appropriate time for preparing your will. If any of these things apply to you, you should create your will as soon as possible. If you don’t prepare properly, the courts will make the decisions about your estate after you die.
Steps to Creating Your Will
You may think that creating a will is difficult, but it can be done in just a few simple steps. Let’s look at what those steps are:
1. Gather Your Documents
Gathering specific information will help make the will creation process easier. You will need:
- Birth certificates and/or death certificates
- Marriage licenses and/or divorce decrees
- Property deeds
- Mortgage documents
- Insurance policies with current beneficiaries noted
- All bank account information: banks and account numbers
- Account numbers for any investment portfolios
- Funeral plans, including your burial plot information
- Names and contact information for lawyer, insurance agent, CPA or accountant, banker, and financial advisor
2. Gather a List of Assets and Think About Final Wishes
Making a list of assets and thinking about what you want to have happen after you die is the first step to creating your will. After you identify your assets, write down your intentions for your estate. Be as detailed and specific as you possibly can.
- Give the name of the asset as well as the name of the person or people you want to get them. Being specific makes it likelier that your wishes will be carried out the way you want.
Another good idea is giving a detailed plan of your final wishes. Do you want a funeral? A celebration of life? Planning in advance will remove the burden from your grieving family members.
Do You Have Digital Assets?
Digital estate planning is becoming more popular. Email, social media, online access to bank accounts, photo sites, and many other accounts are considered digital assets. While online access to an account is a digital asset, the funds inside an account with online access are not considered digital assets.
You need to have a comprehensive list of all digital accounts, and you need to appoint someone to manage those accounts in case you lose the ability to do that. Your Executor may have authority through the courts as well.
Choose the Executor and Beneficiaries
You will need to choose someone, your executor, to be responsible for settling your estate when you pass away. They should be a trustworthy individual who can handle the ins and outs of the financial, legal, and moral responsibilities associated with completing the job. You can also name a co-executor, and you can choose an alternate in case your first choice doesn’t feel able or willing to do the job.
Your beneficiaries are those who will inherit your assets when you die. Beneficiaries will inherit per your wishes as you described in your will. The more specific you have been with that description, the more likely it is that your estate will settle the way you plan.
Nominate Guardians for Your Children
During the will-making process, you should name a guardian for your children or other dependents, even your pets! This decision is likely the hardest to make because you are planning for the future of the people you love the most. However, if you remember the goal is protecting your children for the future, you can focus on what is in their best interests.
Sign your Will
Pay attention to the state rules regarding estate planning to know how many signatures you need to finalize your will. Several states require two witnesses and a notary. Requirements can differ from state to state, so you must understand your state’s requirements, so your will is legally finalized. One thing to note is that you should never use a beneficiary as a witness to your signature on your will.
Storing Your Will
Now that you’ve prepared your estate planning documents, it’s time to consider how you will store it. There are a few options available to you: You could choose to use a safety deposit box, a fireproof safe, or a legacy drawer.
The safety deposit box option is the least convenient for your loved ones later, as it can be hard to access unless they know where it is and have a key to the box.
The fireproof safe is a common solution that protects your important documents.
Dave Ramsey coined the legacy drawer concept. You keep everything together in one place—it doesn’t have to be a drawer—and your loved ones can easily find the documents when they are needed.
Updates and Amendments
Once you’ve created your will, you’ve taken a step toward protecting your loved ones when you aren’t around to care for them anymore. When you have life changes, you also need to make changes to your will. For example, if you have or adopt a child, you will want to add them to your beneficiaries list. It’s a good rule of thumb to review and update your will every three to five years and after any significant life event.
Do You Need a Lawyer’s Help to Create A Will?
You don’t have to hire a lawyer in order to create your will. Speaking to a lawyer may be a good idea if you are nervous about whether your documents will be legally binding when you complete them. Lawyers can help you understand the laws regarding estate planning.
Writing your will is a crucial task that you shouldn’t postpone. If you follow these tips, planning for your family’s future will be a less overwhelming process.