Written by: Joe Fiduccia
Everyone knows there are two guarantees in life: death and taxes. Neither one we have much control over, but we usually do our best to prepare for what’s ahead.
And part of that preparation involves finalizing our affairs. In order to help ensure our children and grandchildren understand our last wishes, we leave those decisions in the hands of a single document: our Last Will and Testament.
But creating a final will can be an expensive undertaking that not many people can afford and thus, attempt to create on their own. That is why we have come up with this list of five simple tips that will help you get started in creating your own Last Will and Testament:
TIP #1: Templates are available to assist you
The internet is full of thousands of articles, templates, and links to various websites that offer assistance in creating your Last Will.
We tested five different websites and also solicited input from our members at America’s Footprints. The consensus for the easiest and best all-around source for creating your Last Will was a website known as TotalLegal.
At TotalLegal, they offer a final will template that is easy to use and navigate. Their system even takes you through an “on-line interview” wizard that asks specific questions about you and your possessions.
Since it is likely something that may take you some time to complete, you can create an account and save a draft of your Will, allowing you to come back to it at a later date.
When it is completed, you can have a hard copy sent to you (email or postal mail), or you can print it instantly. They even provide a set of instructions on what else you need to do to make your document ‘official’ so that it conforms to the laws of your state.
And if you decide you would also like to create a Living Will or Power of Attorney, they offer affordable templates for those as well.
TIP #2: Figure out who will become the Will’s Executor
An executor is the person who is entrusted with the responsibility of finalizing your affairs. They are the person you designate to distribute the property that passes under your Will.
They also arrange for the payment of debts and expenses, and see to it that what’s left is transferred to the people who are entitled to it.
The law does not require an executor (also called a personal representative) to be a legal or financial expert, but it does require the highest degree of honesty, impartiality, and diligence. Many times, the executor is a spouse, parent, child, close family member, or good friend.
Being the executor of a Will can be demanding, and the person you choose might not feel up to the task, or simply might not have the time. So before you designate someone as an executor, we highly suggest asking them if they are okay taking on this position.
TIP #3: Be sure to mention your children
When many read this last tip, they automatically say: “well DUH…of course I will mention them.” Adding your children to the will may seem like an obvious no-brainer to begin with, but the statistics are simple: not everyone does it.
Most often the one thing we think to include is who will be the child’s guardian (if they are a minor), and who will look after them if we were no longer around.
But sometimes the relationship between a parent and their child(ren) is ‘tarnished’. Perhaps they don’t get along very well or no longer speak with each other. And in such cases, most often that child is overlooked or not even mentioned in the Last Will and Testament.
Whether or not you plan to give everything to one of your children, or if you plan to disinherit your children, you should specifically address those wishes in your Will.
The reason for doing this is to emphasize very clearly to the court that you did not forget to include your children in the document. If you intentionally leave a child nothing, but fail to mention them at all, they may contest your Will and claim that you forgot to give them an inheritance (even if that was your intent).
TIP #4: Define your burial wishes
Often what ends up happening in a final Will is that we focus too much on the materials and people we are leaving behind, without giving any thought to ourselves.
With no clear instruction on what to do with your body, your executor and/or next of kin may be at odds, causing them additional stress, unrest, and potential legal fees if they decide to go to court.
Whether it’s a coffin, urn, or something else, be sure to indicate your specific wishes for a final resting place. If you have already selected a burial plot, if you have pre-paid for your funeral, or if you would like to be buried next to someone specific, don’t forget to mention those details as well.
TIP #5: Consider the help of an attorney
We understand that hiring a professional may not always be an option. But writing your own Will without any help from a lawyer may cause problems down the road that end up costing more money to sort out vs. the cost of retaining a lawyer from the start.
So at the very least, we suggest doing some research first.
For example, ask your family and friends if they have any recommendation on family lawyers who can offer advice or help in creating the Final Will.
Look up “family lawyers” online to see if there is anyone local who can assist you. Visit their website and find out what specific experience they have in writing a Final Will.
If you are considering a lawyer outside of your state, make sure they are familiar with the laws of your state and can create a Will that your courts will officially recognize.
Read their online reviews, and ask around to see if anyone you know has worked with them. Narrow down your list to maybe the top five candidates, and ask what their rates are.
You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the costs needed to retain a lawyer are more affordable than you thought, especially with many firms offering partial retainers and payment plans.
With the help of these tips, we hope you’ll find that creating a Last Will and Testament may not be as difficult as you think.
In its most basic form, this is simply a document that contains your final wishes. So be sure to give it some thought, mention anyone who has (or had) a role part in your life, and keep it updated as time goes on.
Because the effort you put in today will help ensure the loved ones you leave behind spend more time memorializing your life vs. fighting over it.