How do I plan a will? 10 essential steps

Old couple talking with their will attorney for make a will
Last Updated on March 9, 2023 by Carlos Lopez

You may be wondering how to go about making a will . It’s not as difficult as you might think, but there are a few key steps you’ll need to take.

Here are 10 essential steps to help you plan your will:

1. First: why plan a Will?

No one likes to think about death, especially their own. But the fact is, everyone is going to die and it’s important to have a plan in place in case something happens. That’s where creating a will comes in.

A will is a legal document that dictates how you want your property and assets to be divided up after your death.

It can also name a guardian for your children if they’re underage. And perhaps most importantly, it ensures that your wishes are carried out no matter what happens.

If you don’t have a will, the state will make decisions for you about who gets your property and assets.

This can often lead to family disputes and conflict. So don’t wait until it’s too late—planning a will should be one of your top priorities.

When it comes to making a will, there are some key things you need to understand before you get started.

First and foremost, you need to be aware of the legal requirements for will-making in your state. Each state has different rules, and if you don’t adhere to them, your will could be invalidated.

So it’s important to consult an attorney who is familiar with the laws in your state. They can help you draft a will that meets all the necessary requirements, and they can also provide guidance on other aspects of estate planning.

3. Choose an executor

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your will is who will act as executor. This is the person who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes after your death.

You need to choose someone you trust implicitly, who is organized and capable of handling paperwork and financial matters.

This person should also be able to handle difficult conversations and be discreet when dealing with sensitive information.

4. Make a list of your assets

The fourth step in the process of planning a will is to make a list of your assets. This includes all the property, investments and other possessions you own, including any retirement plans of which you are the beneficiary.

It’s important to be as clear and specific as possible when it comes to listing all of your assets.

You may want to use an inventory form if you need help organizing all your possessions. Try to include not only physical items (like jewelry or furniture) but also intangible assets such as bank accounts, stocks, insurance policies and trust funds.

If you have debts or liabilities, it’s important to include those in your list as well.

You may want to bring this list with you when you meet with your attorney, so that they can help make sure everything is accounted for and all appropriate taxes are paid.

5. Select an heir or heirs

When deciding who you want to be the heir of your estate, you should consider factors such as financial responsibility and maturity.

You may also want to include an alternate/successor if desired. If you have multiple heirs, you may opt to divide the estate among them or leave it in trust with an executor. It’s important to make sure the amount allocated is fair and equitable between all your designated heirs.

You should also consider any potential taxes or liabilities your heirs will incur upon receiving the estate and keep in mind that it is possible for a court to contest a will based upon certain conditions.

6. Draft and sign the Will

Once you have finalized your will, it’s time to draft and sign it. Be sure to follow state-specific guidelines when drafting the will, as each state has its own requirements.

You may need to have your will witnessed and notarized, so be sure to check with your state for the specifics.

Once the document is completed, you can sign the will in front of two witnesses who are at least 18 and not named in the document.

Then one of those witnesses should sign the document themselves, in front of both you and the other witness. Finally, make sure that all three parties—you and both witnesses—have valid IDs present when signing. This helps ensure that your will is deemed legally valid if ever needed.

Once your will is signed by you and your two witnesses, it’s time to store it securely with your other important documents or with an attorney or executor.

That way you can rest easy knowing that if something ever happens to you, your wishes as stated in the document would be carried out according to law.

7. Obtain witnesses or notarization

Step seven is an important one: Obtaining witnesses or notarization. Depending on your state’s law, you may need witnesses or a notary to authenticate your will.

It’s best to consult with a lawyer and confirm what is required in order to make sure that your wishes are legally documented and recognized.

Ideally, it would be best to have two witnesses. They should be impartial, meaning they have nothing to gain from your will, such as someone you don’t have any family relationship with.

Some states even require the witnesses provide documentary evidence that they are who they say they are. In any case, after signing the will, the witnesses will also need to provide their names and addresses on the document.

If you’re looking for an easier solution, many states provide an option of hiring a notary public instead of having two witnesses sign off on your will.

A notary provides greater assurance that your will is valid and unmistakable for the court system down the road if needed.

8. Determine Who Will Be Guardian of Minor Children

Step eight is an important one—you need to decide who will be the guardian of your minor children if something happens to you. This person will be responsible for raising your children and managing financial affairs on their behalf.

This decision is incredibly personal, but it’s important to choose someone who can provide your children with a safe and loving home.

The person should also have the same values as you so that your children are raised in an environment that reflects your own beliefs and morals.

It’s also a good idea to leave instructions on how the guardian should use any funds left behind for your child’s care and development, if necessary. Once you’ve settled on a guardian, make sure they are aware of their responsibility and are ok with it.

They can also be named as a beneficiary in your will, so they can better manage those funds on behalf of your child.

9. Make Provisions for Digital Assets

As technology has evolved, so have the ways in which we can acquire and hold wealth. In addition to tangible items and real estate, many of us now also have items such as bitcoin and other cryptocurrency that are held online.

It’s important to make sure these items are included in your will, so that you can designate who should receive them upon your death.

While it may seem strange to think about, there are some methods for adding digital assets to your will. Depending on their nature, some of these assets may not be able to be transferred directly to the beneficiary and you might have to appoint an executor or trustee to manage them.

Make sure they know what they’re responsible for and what they need do upon your death. You should also consider sharing any logins or instructions necessary to access the assets with the executor or trustee.

Creating a clear plan for these types of assets is just as important as planning for traditional items and property, so take the time now to organize these digital assets in order protect their future value.

10. Store Your Will in a Safe Location

When you create your will, it’s important to make sure it’s stored in a safe place. If something happens to you and your will is not found by your loved ones, the court might decide that you have no valid will.

The best place to store it is with a lawyer or an automated will service, such as one that stores digital copies for you. You can also store hard copies of the document in a secure place like a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box. Be sure to inform someone of its location so they can find it when they need to.

It’s also important to review your will every few years, especially when major life changes happen, such as marriage or divorce, birth or death of family members, or the acquisition of property. Make sure all of the details are up-to-date before you store it away again.

Some FAQs before you leave…

Do I need a lawyer to plan my will?

While it’s possible to write your own will, it’s recommended to seek legal advice to ensure your will is legally binding and accurately reflects your wishes.

What happens if I die without a will?

If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed according to the laws of your state. This may not reflect your wishes and can lead to disputes among your loved ones.

Can I change my will after it’s been written?

Yes, you can change your will at any time. It’s important to keep your will up to date to ensure it accurately reflects your wishes.

Will and Estate Planning Attorney in Washington, DC.

If you’re located in Washington DC and need help planning your will, contact our trusted estate planning attorney today to ensure your wishes are accurately reflected in your will. Don’t wait until it’s too late – start planning for your future today.

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