What is a Will?
A Will is a document that puts your intentions in writing so your family knows exactly what you want to happen when you’re no longer around. Wills are useful in documenting your wishes but generally don’t help to avoid probate.
Wills typically include:
- What you want to happen to your assets, such as your home and personal belongings
- Your intentions for guardianship of children
- Your wishes for burial or other arrangements
10 Steps to Writing a Will
1. Consult an estate planning attorney or use a free resource.
An estate planning attorney can act as your guide during the process of creating a Will. It’s best to consult an attorney as you begin drafting your Will as they can advise you on different legal matters that you may not be familiar with.
Another option is to use a free resource such as FreeWill or Nolo’s Online Will. These solutions are less expensive and often more accessible. While these are useful resources, it’s important to make sure that your legal documents are prepared correctly. If they’re not, you may end up needing to consult an attorney later on.
2. Choose your beneficiaries.
A main component of a Will is the list of beneficiaries for your estate – who gets what after you’re gone. If you have beneficiaries listed elsewhere, such as on a life insurance policy or property deed, make sure that information is consistent in your Will as well.
3. Choose your Executor.
Your Executor is the person who is responsible for making sure your intentions are carried out. This is an essential step; some people feel that since their loved ones already know what they want, and so having a Will is unnecessary. However, if you don’t list an Executor in your Will, the court will decide what happens to your estate.
4. Choose a guardian for your children.
Guardianship is another important component of Wills. If you don’t list at least one legal guardian in your Will, the court will appoint one. Talk to potential guardians and make sure that they are up to the task. Also take the opportunity to communicate your wishes for your children and any important information that the guardian(s) need to know.
5. Be thorough.
Think about everything you will leave behind – property, personal belongings, pets, etc. If something is left out of your Will, its fate may be decided on by the court, which would likely grant ownership to your spouse, siblings, or close relatives.
6. Be specific.
A lot of conflict surrounding Wills comes from disputes between family members. Simply writing in your Will that you want all of your belongings to be split evenly between your children can cause huge problems, even if you believe that they’ll be able to work things out themselves. Make sure to be as specific as possible to minimize the chance of conflict.
7. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
An improperly signed Will won’t be valid after you’re gone. In California, your Will must be signed by yourself and two adult witnesses. It’s recommended that these witnesses are not your beneficiaries.
8. Attach a letter to your Will.
You can include a letter with your Will explaining your wishes in more detail. This is especially valuable if you want to leave personal notes to your loved ones and make sure that they have everything they need to honor your wishes.
9. Find a place to keep your Will.
It’s important to keep Will in a safe place, such as in a secure deposit box or safe. It’s a good idea to have multiple copies, making sure that people you trust can access them if needed. In California, your Will must be in writing as electronic, video, and audio Wills aren’t considered valid.
10. Review and update your Will as needed.
As you go through life changes, your Will should continue to reflect your most current wishes. It’s best to update your Will after a major event such as marriage, divorce, or having a child. Another good rule of thumb is to update your Will every five years.