Estate Planning Guide

What is a Will and Why do I Need One?

What is a Will and Why do I Need One?

Have you been putting off writing your will? If so, you aren’t alone. Only 46 percent of U.S. adults have a will in place, even during the ongoing pandemic. But creating a will is easier than you think. Thanks to the online resources now available, you don’t even need an attorney to put one in place. The below step-by-step guide will help you check “setting up a will” off your to-do list.

Stephanie Faris

Published March 7th, 2022

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • You can create your own will using a template, online service, or software, as long as you have it signed in accordance with local laws.
  • You’ll need to choose an executor and decide your beneficiaries before you get started.
  • It’s important to regularly revisit your will and update it to account for any changes.

Have you been putting off writing your will? If so, you aren’t alone. A recent Gallup poll found that only 46 percent of U.S. adults have a will in place, even during the ongoing pandemic. Creating a will takes time and, in some cases, legal resources, so it can be an easy task to procrastinate.

But once you take a good look at how to create a will, you’ll probably find it’s easier than you think. Thanks to the online resources now available, you don’t even need an attorney to put one in place. The below step-by-step guide will help you check “setting up a will” off your to-do list.

Choose an Executor

Before you dive into how to make a will, you’ll need to choose an executor. This is the person who will gather all your assets, pay off your creditors, and make sure your wishes are carried out. Look for your most responsible friend or family member and simply let the person know you’re making a will. If you can’t find a good executor, you can name an attorney or accountant who knows enough about how to draw up a will and oversee it.

Decide What to Include in Your Will

The easiest way to create a will is to find an online template or software that walks you through the process. But you can still learn how to do a will on your own. As you’re researching how to get a will together, you’ll have to log your assets and decide what you want to include. In addition to your money and assets, you may need to decide who will take care of your children and pets.

Make Records of Your Property, Including Debt

It’s important, as you’re working through how to set up a will, that you make things as easy as possible for your executor. This includes documenting every asset and debt you currently have. Whether you do your will on your own or research how to get a will done and pay an attorney, you’ll still ultimately be responsible for ensuring every piece of property and all outstanding debt are documented in writing. Once your record is complete, make copies of it and include one copy with the will, one with your own records, and one with your spouse or children.

Choose Your Beneficiaries

One of the most important steps in getting a will is deciding who inherits what. You’ll have both primary and contingent beneficiaries. A primary beneficiary is the first heir to the asset, with that asset passing to contingent beneficiaries if the primary passes away before the will is executed. As you’re learning how do you make a will, you’ll need to decide who gets your house and everything in it, as well as what happens to the funds in your various accounts.

Consider What Will Happen to Your Children

Most people start asking “How do I make a will?” once they have children. If you’re married, your spouse will retain custody, but what if both of you die? As you’re getting a will made, you’ll need to designate a guardian for any minor children you have. You’ll also need to ask the chosen guardian for permission before you finalize your will.

Make Sure Your Pets Have a Home

There’s one thing that’s often forgotten when someone asks, “How do I get a will?” If you have any pets, you’ll have to account for them, as well, and often guides on how create a will leave that part out. You simply name the person you want to care for your pet--after asking permission, of course. You can also leave a reasonable amount of money to the chosen guardian to use for care of the pet.

Change or Update Your Will as Needed

As you’re deciding how to get a will made, keep in mind you’ll occasionally need to revisit it. Your beneficiaries and assets will change over the years, and your will should be updated to reflect that. If you create the will yourself, you’ll be able to do this as often as needed. If you’re going to a professional to ask, “How do I create a will?” determine in advance if there are fees for making those updates.

Sign Your Will in Front of Witnesses

There may be some flexibility in deciding how do you create a will, but to be legal, it still will need to be signed. You don’t need an attorney for this. The best way to make a will legal is to sign it in front of witnesses. Laws can vary from one state to another, but you’ll usually need two or more witnesses and in some states, one of those witnesses must be a notary.

Final Thoughts

You have several options when deciding where to make a will. You can go to an estate planning attorney or use an online service that provides legal consultation. You can also create your will on your own, using software or a template, and sign the document in front of witnesses in accordance with state law. Either way, a certified financial planner can help you ensure you’ve accounted for all your debts and assets so that you can have them in order for your executor.

Estate Planning Guide

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Wills

Trusts

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Estate Settlement

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Author

Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a writer for a credit card processing service and has written about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on Money Under 30, The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, E-commerce Insiders, and GoBankingRates.

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