How & When to Write a Will

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We all leave this world eventually, and when that time comes, your will is the document with the power to control the fate of everything you leave behind. Whether you want to pass along priceless family heirlooms, a collection of prized comic books, trust funds, or anything in between, a will gives you the opportunity to detail your final wishes.

How to Make a Will

A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legally bound document that explains exactly how your heirs will receive your assets and wealth after your death. You can construct your will using an estate planning attorney or a reputable online program like Do Your Own Will and Free Will that are free to use. For more complicated wills that include living trusts, health care directives, financial power of attorney, etc, there are paid options like NOLO and LegalZoom.

Be sure to include the following elements in your will:

Select an Executor or Executrix: This person will be responsible for carrying out all administrative duties of your will, such as selling your home and paying taxes. Closing an estate can be a difficult and time-consuming task, so pick someone you trust to handle the responsibility.

Identify Beneficiaries: Beneficiaries are the people who receive your assets when you die. For example, your home, vehicle, heirlooms, savings, and other belongings.

Name a Guardian for Minor Children: If you have children under the age of 18, list at least one guardian who will care for your children. Experts recommend listing three guardians in case the first choices are unable to take on the responsibility.

Always Be Specific: Vague and limited wills are difficult to implement. Be as specific as possible, and never leave your words open for interpretation or change. This is especially true if you have multiple children, stepchildren, or ex-spouses.

Be Sure to Update

Life changes, and it’s important to reflect those changes in your will. Review and update your will after any major life event, or the terms may not reflect your actual wishes upon your death. For example, if you fail to update your will after the birth of your third child, that child may not be included as a beneficiary of your assets in the future. Likewise, if you don’t adjust your will after a divorce, your ex-spouse may still receive a portion of your assets!

Who Really Needs a Will?

Simply put, every adult past the age of 18 needs a will. Writing a will is the only way to guarantee that your wishes are honored after your death. The complexity of your will depends on the complexity of your assets, investments, and family situation. If you have one home and one savings account, with no children or spouse, you’ll construct a much simpler will than someone with multiple properties, complicated investments, and five children.