One of the basic items of an estate plan is knowing how to write a will, also known as the last will and testament. Writing a will reduces the risk of family quarrel and legal hassles. In most cases, a will is the most common tool for transferring property upon death. Losing a family member is difficult for anyone, but writing a will can help ease the burden of your surviving family members.
Can You Write Your Own Will?
Writing a will is a legal process, so most people assume it must be done by a lawyer. But it is possible to write your own will. Writing a will sounds complicated, but you just need to follow a few key guidelines, outlined below.
Intention for making a will
Many people do not have a will because they think it isn’t necessary and their families know how they want to use the property. But the scene after your death may be different. Suddenly, your family and friends may fight over your property.Having a will may help to avoid these issues. Intention should be required for the transferring of your property upon death and for the court to make your will legally binding. Intention is a legal term. For example, writing a will is showing what you intended, or meant, to happen to your property after your death.
Keep a list of the legal requirements of your state
The legal requirements may change from one state to another. If you write a will according to the law of your state, usually it is valid in other states, too; However, there might be some exceptions. Therefore, know about your state’s requirements before you write a will.
For example, a holographic will, which is written and signed entirely in the handwriting of the owner of the will, is valid only in some states.
Furthermore, property laws may differ from state to state – especially between “common law” and “community property” states. “Common law” deals with the spouse’s property individually owned; however, “community property” deals with any asset acquired during a marriage. (7 Tips for Harmony with your Money and Marriage)
If you move to another state, consult with a legal professional to ensure all parts of your will are still accepted and valid.
Make an Executor for your will
After an individual expires, an executor is responsible for ensuring the wishes expressed in the will.
If you don’t name an executor, the court will appoint one on your behalf. You can choose:
- An individual
- An institution such as a bank, a trust, or a company to serve as your executor. It may cost a bit higher by appointing an institution as your executor.
Not everyone can handle the responsibility of being executor or trustee. Being an executor of a will or a trustee of a trust is a responsible position, so you should appoint a responsible person.
Differentiate the beneficiaries
A beneficiary can be an individual or entity to whom you’d like to pass your estate. You need to differentiate the beneficiary as per the designation of the assets.
Examples of assets:
- Real estate, land, buildings (e.g. your home)
- Personal properties (cars, jewelry, furniture)
- Bank accounts (checking and savings accounts)
- Investments (Investment accounts, such as a 401k or IRA, Stocks, bonds, etc.)
- Intellectual properties (copyrights, patents, royalties, business ownership, etc.)
You may leave most of your assets to one or two people, but also give specific instructions about the gifts you want to give to others. You may also leave something to a charity. In some states, a gift to charity could reduce the overall tax liability of you estate.
If you require any changes in future make sure your will is made by using “codicil” (a document used to alter, add, remove, or revoke an existing will).
Nominate guardians for your dependents
Appointing a guardian is one of the most important decisions that you need to make. It would be your absolute priority. You should give a careful thought about who would be the best people to take care of your children (How to choose a legal guardian for your child).
A family member or a friend can be an excellent choice for the guardian. Whatever your choices will be, prior permission and interest will be required for appointing them as guardians.
Inform the members about the will
A will is a very personal document. Distribution of the assets to the proper parties is the priority. However, it is often a good idea to talk through the contents of your will with your family members. You should also tell people about your will. A will is only helpful if the proper parties have access to it when they need it.
Include a note in the letter
When you sit down to set up a will, listing items and allocating them to your loved ones might seem impersonal. Thankfully, your last will and testament can be more than just a clinical legal document. If you want to say something meaningful, you may also attach a letter to the will. Doing so lets you say goodbye to your loved ones, as well as clarify your final wishes.
Execution of the will — Witnesses
Once you have learned how to write a will you must “execute it”. Execution of the will should be done correctly or else it will be considered as not a valid one. The rules about how to execute a Will are actually quite simple.
Once you have signed the will, you will need to get two witnesses to sign the document for considering it to be legal.
Generally, requirements for witnesses include that they:
- Must be 18 years old and
- Cannot be named beneficiaries in the will (due to a conflict of interest)
- Cannot be the spouse of a beneficiary
If anyone gains out of the terms of your will, they should not be witnesses.
Safe storage is required
Immediate access to your last will and testament is needed for your loved ones after your death. If you use an estate attorney to write your will, they will likely offer to store it at their office for safekeeping. However, if you’ve decided to do your own will, somebody reliable should know where you’ve stored it.
Update Your Will Regularly
Once you’ve completed your will and are happy with it, you’ll need to review and update it on a regular basis. Life doesn’t stand still, many ups and downs may happen. You could live for a longer time and face plenty of significant events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, even disputes with loved ones. Unless you update your will, you could end up leaving all your belongings to somebody you stopped speaking for long before your death.
Now that you have learned how to write a Will, if you are unsure about any of the steps mentioned above or how to follow the rules to have a will, you should seek legal advice before executing will. You should realize that it is something which can be changed if you want it to be. So start planning from today and make sure that you protect your family.