Do you want to know how to write a Will? Even though writing a Will is one of the most important things that everyone ought to do, most of us are very good at avoiding the issue. Most people put off the task of writing a Will, even though it is one of the most important things that we can do for our family.
The one thing that you should not be apprehensive about is that you do not know how to write a Will. There are plenty of resources out there to help you.
None of us really wants to think about our own demise, so putting off writing a Will seems like the easier option. Unfortunately, the reality is that if we don’t deal with the task of writing a Will, we leave our loved ones with huge potential difficulties.
Most people don’t make a Will – but you should not use this as an excuse! Writing a Will ought to be a very painless process and it can be quite affordable. Do not worry that you do not know how to write a Will.
Choosing How to Write a Will
Once you have taken the important step of deciding that you must tackle the issue of writing a Will, you need to decide how you are going to do it. There are three options of how to write a Will.
1. Free and Blank Will Kits
You can buy a simple Will kit or even get one for free. This may seem like an easy option. Fill in the blanks on a form and everything is taken care of. Just go to the book store or buy it online. For virtually no money at all you can have your Will set up. Unfortunately, that is a really bad option. Writing a Will doesn’t need to be difficult, but the option of a free Will kit is one that can get you into a whole lot of trouble.
Why are free Will kits such a bad idea? The potential for error with a simple Will kit is huge. You never want to make a mistake on a legal document as the consequences are sometimes incredibly costly. There are very specific rules about how to write a Will and you need to follow these so that the document is valid.
What can go wrong with a free Will kit?
There are just so many things which can go wrong with a simple fill in the blanks system. The quality of these kits varies, but overall they tend to be dangerously unacceptable. A legal document has to be very clear, appropriate for your particular situation, specific to your State, and legally valid. A Will doesn’t have to be complex, but we have seen some truly appalling examples of Will forms which could lead to costly litigation. You may think you are saving money, but in the long run you are not.
The one thing which you must never do is even think about getting a ‘free’ Will online. Not only will there be huge potential for the Will to be invalid and cause huge problems, the service will most likely not be free. Many of these services get you to sign up for a service which they say you can cancel at any time. The problem is that when you try and cancel it you find that money continues to come out of your account.
Think for a moment about why an online service would be able to offer you a free product. The product is either junk or they are enticing you to sign up for something you probably don’t need. If you see the term ‘free Will service’ move quickly away! You do not need these services to show you how to write a Will.
2. Use a Lawyer or Estate Planner
The second option is appointing a lawyer specializing in estate planning to draft a Will for you. This can be a sensible option for some people. The disadvantage is that this is an expensive and inconvenient option. The time and expense of this option also prevents people from updating their Will over time. Traditionally people have felt that a Will should be written once in their lifetime, because it was an expensive and onerous task. But you should review and update your Will on a regular basis as circumstances change.
3. An Online Will Service
Another option is an online Will service. These will easily guide you through the process of how to write a Will. This kind of service will be the most appropriate for most people who want to make a Will. They will charge a small fee for their services, but you will have the reassurance that they are specialists in Will writing and that you have the backing of qualified lawyers to help you. The legal wording that is used has been written by lawyers. In most cases the final result is word for word identical to a Will prepared by the office of an estate planning attorney.
If you use an online Will service, you will go through a series of questions which help to identify all of the clauses that you need. This is an excellent option if you want to know how to write a Will. They will take you through all the steps that you need to know.
Online Will services also offer the added convenience of allowing you to update the document as circumstances change, just by logging into your account and making the change. You just print off the new document and sign it in the presence of two witnesses.
Who Do I Want to Leave Things to in My Will?
This will be your starting point. You need to clearly state who you want to be the beneficiaries of your estate. This is straight forward, but it does take some thinking about so that your meaning is clear. Take this example. You want to leave your estate to your nephews. Do you mean all of your nephews? Just the children of your sister? What if your sister has another child after you have written your Will? You do need to take some time to think about what your exact wishes are. Well drafted Wills deal with some potential events in the future, such as the birth or death of other people.
You don’t have to list every single possession that you have. This would be incredibly time consuming and as soon as you have put together your list, it is probably out of date! Most estate plans simply say that you leave all of your estate to someone – you don’t have to list out individual assets.
However, you may want to leave most of your estate to one or two people, but also want to make specific gifts to others. If you have certain items, such as jewelry, you may want to specify who you want to have these.
You may want to take the chance to leave something to charity. This can be a good opportunity to leave something to a charitable cause that you feel strongly about. Gifts to charity can also reduce the overall tax liability of your estate in certain circumstances.
Who Wants the Job of Executor or Trustee?
This is a very important thing to think about. Not everyone wants the responsibility of being executor or trustee. These are responsible positions, so you should always ask someone first if they agree. You should never appoint someone to this role without asking them if they agree.
Also, remember not everyone actually has the ability to be fulfill these roles. It may be tempting to appoint someone because you don’t want to offend them. This isn’t a great reason for choosing someone! One example may be if you have two brothers. One is obviously up to the task, but the other really isn’t. Don’t just appoint both of them as they are siblings and you don’t want to upset one of them. Think about if they are capable of doing the job. Being an executor is an important role and you need people who are capable of taking it on.
If there really isn’t any family member or friend who you can trust to do the job, you can appoint a third party such as a lawyer or a bank. This does cost money, but it may be a better solution than asking a family member or a friend to do it.
Is Uncle Bill Really Going to Be a Great Guardian?
If you have children, one of the most important decisions that you need to make is appointing a guardian. Everyone needs to make a Will, but if you have young children this should be an absolute priority. You should give very careful thought to who would be the best people to take care of your children.
Often a guardian happens to be a family member, but they don’t have to be. Friends can be excellent guardians. You need to think about all the pros and cons of each different person. Then make the decision of who would be best able to take care of your children if you and their other parent are involved in a common accident.
This may seem like an obvious point, but always ask the people you intend to appoint as guardians! You may have to accept that they may not want that responsibility. Taking on the role of guardian is a big commitment and not everyone will want to do that.
A Will can also make provision for dealing with leaving assets to minor children. You may need to appoint trustees to control the assets until the children are old enough to receive them.
Tell People About Your Will
A Will is a very personal document. Only you can decide how you want to distribute your assets. However, it is often a good idea to talk through the contents of your Will with family members. You may have reasons for leaving your grandmother’s jewelry to your granddaughter. However, you may want to explain this first to your daughter who always wanted that diamond ring.
You should also tell people that you have made a Will. It is only going to be useful if people can actually find it when they need it. It is no use hiding it somewhere in the house and no one knows where it is.
Make a List of Your Assets
Your executor will need to know what the assets of your estate are. You can make their future job a lot easier by making a list of your assets. You do not need to make out a list of all of your assets and put this in a Will. However, it really helps an executor if you give them some guidance on what is in your “estate”. You can do this in a simple list which you store with your Will.
Some things will be obvious. However, other assets may not be quite so visible. Make a list of your bank accounts and investments. List the details of your life insurance policies. If you have a safe deposit box, leave instructions of how to access it. Think about which assets would be difficult to find and make sure you leave enough information so that your Executor can easily identify the assets of your estate.
At USLegalWills.com we provide the ultimate Executor tool through our LifeLocker service to assist with this part of the process. You can either print out your LifeLocker, or you can maintain it all online. If you keep it online, you can name keyholders and grant them access to this information at the appropriate time.
How to Execute Your Will
Once you have learned how to write a Will you must “execute it”. You must execute your Will in the correct way or it will not be legally valid. The rules about how to execute a Will are actually quite simple. You need two witnesses and they should both be present in the room at the same time when they sign the document. You each sign the document in the others presence. The witnesses do not have to know the contents of the Will.
Witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of your Will. The easy rule is that if they have anything to gain out of the terms of your Will, they should not be witnesses. Spouses of beneficiaries should not be witnesses either.
Where Should you store a Will?
You do not just need to know how to write a Will – you need to make sure that it can be found once you have written and executed it. A Will is only useful if someone can find it when it is needed. It is always a good idea to tell more than one person where your Will is stored. There are a number of options of where you can keep your Will.
Many people just keep their Will at home. This isn’t the best place to store a Will. It can easily get lost or even be damaged in a fire. If you want to keep it at home, then you really ought to buy a fireproof safe to keep it in. Although this isn’t particularly safe or secure, it is a better option than just keeping it in a drawer.
What about Safety Deposit Boxes?
If you have a safety deposit box at the bank this is a good place to keep valuables. This will be an extremely secure place to keep your Will. Safety deposit boxes are fire proof and highly unlikely to be accessible by anyone who does not have the authority to do so. Ironically, this is part of the problem of storing a Will in a safety deposit box. Usually it is only the official user who can get into the box.
Even if your Executor has the key, if they are not the box holder the bank will not let them access it. Think about this for a minute. How would an executor get into the box if they owner had died? You can get around the problem by having someone as a second owner of the box, but really this is over complicating things in most situations.
Be wary of services that allow you to store your signed Will online. Scanned, digitized or uploaded documents are not accepted as legal Wills. It has to be a printed, originally signed document. Photocopies are sometimes accepted if it can be demonstrated that the original is lost (like a house fire).
At USlegalWills.com we allow you to store an online version, but it’s for your convenience only, to allow easy updates. But every time it is updated, it must be printed, signed and witnessed. The signed version cannot then be uploaded back.
Don’t Forget That a Will Can Be Updated
Now you have learned how to write a Will, you should realize that it is something which can be changed if you want it to be. What is right for your circumstances at the moment may not be in the future. You can always change a Will. You should always keep in mind that your Will may need to be redone. Things change. You may have a child and need to make provision for them, add a bequest to someone new, change your Will upon divorce or add a gift to a charity.
If you use a reputable online Will service, they will let you make changes to your Will. Circumstances change and you should be able to easily and quickly make the revisions that you need.
Now you know how to write a Will you can see that this is a simple and painless process. Start today and make sure that you protect your family.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of USLegalWills.com.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets, and has contributed to articles in The New York Times, NY Metro Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and other leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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