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How to Make Will: Step By Step Guide

Summary: You can create a will by hiring an estate planning attorney or creating it on your own. Utilizing an attorney will create a more legally sound document. However, you can choose whichever method is more comfortable for you. Estimated Read Time: 3 min

Table of Contents:

  1. What is the Purpose of a Will?
  2. Creating a Will for Seniors
  3. Six Steps to Create a Will
  4. Keeping Your Will Up to Date

Creating a will is an essential step in the estate planning process. For some, a will can be as simple as writing your wishes down on a piece of paper and leaving it easily accessible once you have passed. For others, it can be as complex as having a legal document in place, overseen by an estate planning attorney who will read your will to your loved ones after you have passed on.

Either way, writing a will is like leaving behind a present to your family after you are gone. When you are writing your will, it is important to know the necessary requirements to have in your will to ensure it can stand up against protests in court.

By creating a will, you can have a say in where your assets end up after you have passed. Assets to be distributed in a will can include:

  • Real estate
  • Money
  • Personal Items
  • Vehicles
  • And more

Any asset you own that does not have a co-owner or pre-designated beneficiary can be left to the individual of your choosing in a will.

In the United States, one in four elderly individuals do not have a will in place. If you find yourself in the 25% of individuals that do not have a will in place, you may want to consider following the steps below to have a will in place at the time of your passing.

What is the Purpose of a Will?

After you die, your friends, family members, and loved ones may create unnecessary conflict regarding the distribution of your assets and personal belongings. With a will in place, this conflict can be overturned or avoided all together, by your wishes.

In a will, you have the freedom to choose who, when, where, and how your assets are distributed so that there is no confusion at the time of your passing.

When creating a will, it is important to consider each and every person who has had an impact on your life. Often, personal belongings are left to the individual who has the most shared memories with the loved one surrounding the item. Often times, larger assets like real estate and high-dollar property are left to immediate family members, like a spouse or children.

Additionally, if you happen to be the sole caregiver for any minor aged child, you may also select guardians for your dependents in your will as well.

The purpose of a will is to allow your loved ones to not have to worry about your assets, but to ensure they are distributed properly and to your liking.

Creating a Will for Seniors

Writing a will is not a difficult process. If you already have an estate planning attorney selected, this individual will be instrumental in the creation of your will. However, if you wish to create a will without an attorney present, this can be done as well.

If you wish to create a will on your own using an online software, you can do so at a fraction of the price of hiring an estate planner. There are several prominent online will creation software’s available in 2024. However, you want to be sure that an online will maker is right for you.

If you are someone with a complex estate and a high net worth, it may be worth your while to invest in an estate planning attorney. With an estate planning attorney, this individual is invested in your future and the future of your assets.

However, if you have a more straightforward estate, an online software may work best for your needs. Nonetheless, the preference is yours.

Often times, a will created by an estate planning attorney will hold a higher value in the eyes of the law. However, online produced wills should not be completely discounted. Several online programs have the option to consult with a legal attorney throughout the process to ensure you are on the right track legally.

If you decide that an online software is the best platform for you to create a will, you’ll want to compare your options. There are three major will creation platforms currently available:

  • GoodTrust
  • Will & Trust
  • Legal Zoom

Let’s see how these three online programs stack up against one another.

GoodTrust Will & Trust Legal Zoom
One time cost: $149 One time cost: $159 One time cost: $89
Annual Membership fee: $39 Annual Membership fee: $19 Annual Membership fee: $0
Access to Attorney Support: No Access to Attorney Support: Yes Access to Attorney Support: Yes

As you can see, Legal Zoom is by far the most cost effective of the three software options. However, before downloading and paying for the software, you should test any free trials or online tutorials to ensure the program has the features you require.

The perk to utilizing an online program is the timeframe in which a will can be completed. You can appoint your executor, list your assets, and determine beneficiaries all in one sitting without any hold up. However, the downside is the lack of a licensed legal counsel on your side throughout the process. While you do have access to an attorney for support through some programs, they may not be as invested in your situation as a hired estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about your situation.

Whichever you choose, creating a will is a vital moment in your life and the process should not be taken lightly.

Six Steps to Create a Will

We have broken down will creation into six easy to follow steps.

Step 1: Create a List of Your Assets

The first step in creating a will is to list the assets and personal items you wish to distribute within your will. These items will typically be higher cost items such as cars, recreational vehicles, real estate property, sentimental personal items, or family heirlooms. However, there is no rules on which items can and cannot be left in a will.

Just as no two people are the same, no two wills are the same either. Even if you do not own any high-value property or assets, your personal items are still just as valuable in the eyes of your loved ones.

Your net-worth does not determine your need for a will. When creating your will, think about the personal items your loved ones and family members would like to keep as a token of your memory.

Step 2: Choose the Executor of Your Will

Once you have determined the items you wish to distribute from your will, it is now time to choose an executor of your will. The executor is often a trusted third-party individual who will not be receiving any of your assets but will be in charge of ensuring each item is dispersed appropriately.

If you are working with an estate planning attorney, this person is often the executor of your will.

It is the duty of the executor to ensure each step of your will is properly followed and that all of your wishes are followed through with. Your executor may also need to submit your will to probate in the case your will needs to be legally reviewed.

Choosing the executor of your will is one of the most important duties in the will creation process. Whoever you choose, you’ll want to be sure they are trustworthy, ethical, and willing to assume the responsibility of administering your will and distributing your assets.

Step 3: Determine Who Will Receive Your Assets

Often, the most difficult part in creating a will is determining who will receive the items you are dispersing. Each item you include in your will can likely have some kind of sentimental value to you and your loved ones. Thus, choosing who should receive the items is typically the most time-consuming part of creating a will.

How you decide to divide your assets is entirely up to your discretion. Often, if you are married, all of your assets will be left to your spouse, who will then distribute them in their will once they have passed. However, if you are the last remaining spouse, you may need to sit down and think hard about how you wish to disperse your assets.

When writing your will, it is important to be as specific as possible when dividing your assets. For example, if you have a guitar collection and you state that the “red one” should go to your son and the “blue one” should go to your daughter, if there are multiple guitars in different shades of red and blue, they may not know exactly which guitar you were talking about.

Step 4: Select Guardians for Minor Dependents

Selecting guardians for your minor dependents can be the most difficult task when it comes to writing a will. The person you choose will become the legal guardian for your dependents in the event something happens to you while the dependents are still minors.

It is extremely important to have a thorough conversation with this individual before selecting them in your will as this will be a major life change for the dependent and the new guardian.

Please note, although you nominate a guardian within your will, the final decision will lie in the hands of the courts. It is up to the judge to determine if the individual is the best choice with the dependent’s safety and wellbeing in mind.

Often times, even after it is stated in a will, the guardianship of minor dependents is the most widely contested section of a will.

You may also want to consider leaving a financial support to the new guardian as they will be assuming new costs of raising a child. While it is not required for you to leave financial support, it is a way for you to continue to support your child after you have passed.

Step 5:  Create a Finalized Version of Your Will

Once you have determined your assets, recipients, guardians, and appointed an executor, it is time to write a finalized version of your will. If you decided to utilize an estate planning attorney. This individual will be by your side throughout the will writing process.

However, if you decide to write your own will either on your own or with the help of a computer program, you will be responsible for the wording and ensuring you are descriptive and thorough in the will writing process.

If you decide to hire an estate planning attorney, be prepared to pay high fees. Creating a will can cost anywhere from $100-$1,000 depending on the complexity of your estate.

If you wish to write the will yourself, it can be as simple as writing your wishes down in a notebook and giving it to your appointed executor to keep safe until it is ready to be read.

Step 6: Make Your Will Official

To make your will a legally binding document, you must sign and date it in the presence of two witnesses. If you believe your will may be subject to probate, you can also attach a self-proving affidavit with your document to prove you were fully capable of creating this document and did so out of your own free will.

Keeping Your Will Up to Date

Once you have completed your will, it is important to keep the document up to date. As the owner of the will, you can change it as often as you like for any reason.  There are several reasons why you may want to revisit your will on an annual basis. Some of those reasons include:

  • The loss of a close friend or family member
  • Financial setback
  • Birth of additional family members
  • Influx of wealth
  • Change in real-estate portfolio
  • Creation of a trust
  • Sale or acquisition of a business

These are just a few of the major reasons one may wish to make a change to their will. However, the reasoning for changing your will does not always have to be grand. It can be as simple as changing your mind or wanting to add an additional asset to your will.

As your life and the lives of those around you change, it is ok to make updates to your will as needed. Your wishes today may not be the same as your wishes 5 years from now. However, don’t push off the updates. As soon as you are confident that a change is necessary, you shouldn’t waste any time. As unpredictable as life is, having an up-to date will can ensure your most accurate wishes after you have passed can come to fruition.

Once you have created your will, you may also be interested in setting up a trust account for any minor beneficiaries or beneficiaries who you believe require stipulations to your assets. Continue reading through our online guide to dive deeper into understanding trusts.

Sources

MedicareFAQ is dedicated to providing you with authentic and trustworthy Medicare information. We have strict sourcing guidelines and work diligently to serve our readers with accurate and up-to-date content.

  1. How to Make a Will, Ramsey . Accessed February 2024.
    https://www.ramseysolutions.com/retirement/how-to-make-a-will
  2. Steps to Writing a Will, US News . Accessed February 2024.
    https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/family-finance/articles/steps-to-writing-a-will
Kayla Hopkins

Kayla Hopkins

Content Editor
Kayla Hopkins is an accomplished writer and Medicare educator serving as the Editor of MedicareFAQ.com. Upon completing her Communications degree from Ohio University, Kayla dedicated her time to understanding the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare. With her extensive background as a Licensed Insurance Agent, she brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her writing.
Ashlee Zareczny

Ashlee Zareczny

Compliance Manager
Ashlee Zareczny is the Compliance Manager for MedicareFAQ. As a licensed Medicare agent in all 50 states, she is dedicated to educating those eligible for Medicare by providing the necessary resources and tools. Additionally, Ashlee trains new and tenured Medicare agents on CMS compliance guidelines. Ashlee is a Medicare expert who specializes in Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D education.

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