The 5-Step Checklist for Setting Up a Will
According to a recent Gallop poll, “slightly less than half of U.S. adults, 46%, have a will that describes how they would like their money and estate to be handled after their death.” The survey also found that for adults under the age of 30, that number drops to just 20 percent.
In another survey from 2021, organizations Caring.com and YouGov found that “1 out of 3 people said that COVID caused them to see a greater need for an estate plan, but 31% of those who saw a greater need didn’t do anything about it.”
Setting up a will is an important step in ensuring that your loved ones will be taken care of after your death. The problem is, many people never get around to doing it. Some just don’t think about it, some are intimidated by what they believe the process will be like, and others pass away before they ever get a chance.
If you have a spouse, children, or other family members that rely on you for support, it’s a good idea to have a will in place that explains what to do with your assets and property in the event of your death.
This article will help you understand what a will is, why it’s beneficial to have one, and how to set up a will in five easy steps.
What is a Will?
Fidelity.com defines a will as “a legal document that coordinates the distribution of your assets after death and can appoint guardians for minor children.”
After your death, an executor will go through your will and begin the process of making sure your assets—money, property, and other valuables—make it into the hands of the right people.
Without a will in place, you have little control over what happens to your assets and who benefits from them.
As Investopedia explains in an article about wills, “failure to prepare a will typically leaves decisions about your estate in the hands of judges or state officials and may also cause family strife.”
In essence, a will gives you a voice after your death that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Who Needs a Will?
You could benefit from having a will if you:
- Are a Working Adult: If you are out of college and in the job force, you might have savings, stocks, and other investments that will need to be distributed in the event of your death.
- Have Minor Children: If you have kids that are still dependent on you for food, shelter, and other financial support, you should have a plan in place that gives them access to your assets if you were to pass away before they are 18.
- Have a Lot of Valuable Assets: If you own your home, have investment properties, or have other monetary assets, you’ll want people to know what to do with them in the event that you are no longer around to control what happens to them.
- Have a Spouse: If you have a spouse, you want to make sure that they are taken care of financially if you pass unexpectedly.
- Don’t Want Your Assets Going to Certain People: If you are estranged from your spouse or other family members and don’t want them getting control of your assets after your death, a will can offer protection and ensure that your assets are kept from certain people.
- Want to Make it Easier for People: If you don’t want your loved ones to go through mountains of paperwork or waste countless hours in legal hearings, a will can help because it provides explicit instructions about what should happen to your assets after you die.
If you’re not sure if you should have a will or not, the best thing to do is speak to a qualified, licensed attorney. An attorney can give you the information and advice you need in order to make the right decision for yourself and your family.
The Main Benefits of Having a Will
There are many benefits to having a will. A will allows you to:
Makes Your Wishes Known
The main benefit of having a will in place is that it makes it easier for people to know and adhere to your wishes after you pass.
Take Care of Loved Ones
A will ensures that you are able to take care of your loved ones financially, whether that be your elderly parents, a spouse or partner, or your children.
Decide Who Manages Your Money and Assets
A will forces you to select an executor—the person who will execute your will and make sure your assets are distributed properly.
Control What Happens to Your Assets, Rather Than a Judge
A will gives you more control over what happens to your assets after you pass. Without a will in place, those decisions might be left up to a judge or the state you live in.
Peace of Mind
A will gives the peace of mind that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes. If you still have minor children, a will allows you to choose a guardian to care for your children if you were to die unexpectedly while they are still being supported by you. Having a documented guardian in place can give you peace knowing your children will be taken care of and supported even if you aren’t around to take care of them anymore.
When Should You Set Up a Will?
Setting up a will can be done at any time, but it’s especially important if you have a spouse and/or minor children who are dependent on you for support.
The best time to set up a will is well before you think you’ll need it. Scrambling to set up a will in an emergency or right before your death can be an incredibly stressful, emotional experience for you and everyone else involved.
5 Simple Steps for Setting Up a Will
Setting up a will might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. You can complete the process in just a few steps:
Step 1: Work with An Attorney or Find a Service
The first step you need to take when setting up a will is to decide whether you want to hire an attorney or prepare a will by yourself. If you have a lot of assets and a lot of family members you’d like to support after your death, you might want to consider working with an attorney. An attorney can help answer your questions, prepare documents, and make sure everything is set up correctly. An attorney can also help you make changes to your will over time.
If you don’t want to spend money on an attorney or if you think your situation is simple enough to create a will on your own, you can use a service like LegalZoom. This company offers a number of affordable packages for estate planning.
Note: Home Title Lock is not providing you with legal advice. If you have questions about estate planning or how to create a will, it’s best to speak to an attorney first.
Step 2: Choose Beneficiaries, An Executor, and Guardians
After you’ve decided how you want to create your will, the next step is to identify the people who will manage or be impacted by your will.
You will need to select an executor who can ensure that the wishes you listed in your will are being carried out. Your executor should be someone you trust.
You will need to identify your beneficiaries—these are the people who will receive your assets should they need to be distributed after your death.
If you have minor children, you will need to select a guardian(s)—this is the person who will be responsible for caring for your children and making decisions for them in the event of your death.
Step 3: Take Stock of What You Have
As part of the process of creating your will, you’ll need to take stock of what you have in terms of property, money, and other assets. Examples of assets include personal belongings, family heirlooms, real estate properties, land, savings accounts, stock, etc.
This list should be very detailed and specific—you want to make it as easy as possible for your executor and family members to access your assets and distribute them accordingly.
Step 4: Be Specific About What Your Wishes
You’ll need to also be very specific about what you want to happen to your assets. You might decide to give certain items to certain people, withhold items from certain family members, or donate portions of your assets to charity. The more specific you are about how you want your assets to be distributed, the easier it will be for your executor to follow your wishes.
Step 5: Sign with Witnesses & Store in a Safe Place
When you have created your will, you’ll need to sign it alongside two witnesses. Some states require that these two witnesses be objective third parties and not individuals that fall under the category of beneficiaries. To ensure your document is legally binding, the best thing to do is seek advice and recommendations from a licensed attorney.
When you complete the process, print a hard copy of your will and store it in a safe place in your home—ideally in a fire and waterproof safe. According to some sources, storing your will in a safety deposit box in a bank can create challenges for your family when it comes time to access and review your will.
RamseySolutions.com even recommends creating a legacy drawer that also contains letters for your family members, passwords to your accounts, account numbers, security challenge answers, funeral instructions, and anything else that will be needed to gain access to your accounts.
Setting up a will is an important part of being an adult. It protects your assets and helps make sure your family will be taken care of if you pass away unexpectedly or at the end of your life. Don’t put off setting up a will—create it now before you need it and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing there’s a process in place for people to follow.
If you still have questions about setting up a will, speak to an attorney—Home Title Lock does not provide legal advice.
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