Creating a will can be a daunting task. Firstly, it forces us to look squarely at our mortality, which, for most people, isn’t the most pleasant proposition. And, perhaps more significantly, it may seem like a royal pain in the you-know-what. After all, who wants to deal with paperwork, legal mumbo jumbo, and potential family squabbles?
But when you break the task of creating or updating a will into parts, it is much less intimidating. Here are the key steps to creating or updating your will:
1. Make an inventory of your assets
Carefully assess all your estate, considering all of your property, bank accounts, and any other significant assets. Note that if you are married, both you and your spouse should have your own wills. Yours will encompass your share of jointly owned assets.
2. Decide who will inherit what
Once you’ve thoroughly inventoried your estate, determine who will receive what–your beneficiaries. You should also choose contingent beneficiaries in case those who you first selected don’t survive you.
3. Choose an executor
The executor manages the process of fulfilling the wishes you outlined in the will. The executor should be someone who you trust, and who is willing to take on this responsibility.
4. If you have dependents, choose a guardian
For empty-nesters, this isn’t a consideration, but if you do have minor children or dependents, your will should specify a guardian, and also a trustee (who may be the same person as the guardian) to manage their property until they come of age.
5. Make the will
Having completed the previous four steps, you will merely need to put your decision in writing. If your will is relatively simple, you can use an online template for your will, such as those provided by Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, or NOLO. These websites allow you to create a legally binding will for a relatively low cost. If your will is more complex, or you lack confidence in online tools, you can have your will written by an attorney with a specialization in estates.
6. Sign your will in the presence of witnesses
Finally, sign your will in front of at least two witnesses. To avoid any complications or disputes involving your estate, you can consider a “self-proving affidavit," which is a document that affirms your will was created under your own volition. If you are including a “self-proving affidavit”, your signature must be notarized.
7. Safely store your will
Make sure your executor knows where to find your will and how to access it. A safety deposit box is a prudent choice to protect your will from loss or theft.
8. Keep your will up-to-date
An obsolete will is not much better than no will at all. If you have had changes in your life since you originally made a will, such as the death of a beneficiary, you should look to update your will.
If you have already signed a will in front of witnesses, but need to make changes, you should determine whether you can make a codicil to your existing will, or whether you ought to make a new will from scratch. A codicil is essentially an amendment and is best for simple changes. Like your original will, codicils need to be signed with two witnesses. If you have more substantial changes, it is better just to create a new will to avoid confusion or conflict.
All adults should have a will, but, for obvious reasons, the importance grows as we age. One of the best things you can do for your family is to make sure you have a comprehensive, up-to-date will that will stand up in court.