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How to Make a Will

Topic: Estate planning

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Depending on the circumstances, writing or creating your own will can be—dare we say—a piece of cake. But for most of us, it takes a bit of effort. Online and free wills are good stop gaps if you’re unable to afford an estate planner. If you are able to work an estate planner, there are a few things you’ll need to have in place before getting started. Let’s run through a breakdown from start to finish on how to be prepared.

Step 1: Make an inventory of your assets

Even if you follow a template to prepare your last will and testament, you will need to compile a few things to make it an easier process. Prepare a list of assets including property, bank accounts, investments, vehicles, personal or family heirlooms, and any other important items to be given to loved ones or organizations. As best you can, try to give a value to everything on your list. Some assets may be harder to value than others. Finally, write down any debts you owe and who holds the debts. Those debts may need to be repaid from your estate when you pass.

Here’s a list of possible assets to help you get started:

  • Cash and bank accounts
  • Business interests
  • Investments
  • Real estate including residence, rental properties, land
  • Vehicles including cars, boats, planes, etc.
  • Life insurance policies
  • Expected inheritance from others
  • Personal effects

After you take into account all of your assets, the next step is to list the heirs to your estate. This can include family, friends, or even organizations. Anyone who you want to receive items or money should be listed. And make sure all names are written and spelled properly so there is no confusion as to who gets what. You might want to include conditions like the heir, also called a beneficiary, must be alive, and if they aren’t, who would be next in line for the inheritance. You can specify if there are certain assets you want to leave to each individual, or you could divide total assets by percentages. For example, “I want to leave 50% of my estate to my wife, and 25% each to my two children.”

2. Choose a guardian for minors and/or pets

If you are a parent or guardian to minors, make sure to include information on who is to take over as their primary guardian if you and your spouse both die. This goes for pets, too.

Check with the person you’re choosing before assigning them guardianship of your children or pet upon your death. You may think you have the best dog in the world, but if your chosen guardian disagrees, you’ll want to reconsider.

3. Choose an executor of your will

Once you’ve taken assets and guardianship into account, you’ll need to choose an executor to oversee the processing of the will. An executor is simply a person you choose to liquidate and distribute your assets according to your wishes. You can also designate an alternate executor in case your primary choice is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility. Most people choose a trusted family member or friend to fill this role. If you don’t appoint an executor, the courts will appoint one after your death.

4. Create an online will or work with an estate planner

Online Wills

The Internet offers a variety of ways to make a legal will if you want to do it yourself. These options tend to appeal to people with uncomplicated estates, no dependents, or lower net worth. An online will can also be a decent stop-gap to consider until you are able to meet with (or afford) an estate planner. Legalzoom.com and rocketlawyer.com are popular choices.

Estate Planners & Attorneys

If you feel nervous about preparing your own will from a template, or if you have a complicated estate with dependents, working with a lawyer or estate planner might be the better route for you. Many people find their estate planners by word of mouth from friends, families, financial planners, and accountants. You can also do a Google search for “Estate Planners {Your Town}” to start an online search. Many estate planners will be happy to arrange an intro call or meeting so you can assess if it’s a good fit for your needs.

5. Securely store and share your completed will

It’s important to store all of your end-of-life planning documents, including your will, in a safe and secure place. Cake is a free online resource for guidance, creation, and storage of end-of-life documents. It also makes it easy to share your preferences and documents so your loved ones have access to them when they’re needed someday. Create your free Cake plan to get started!

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