A will is a legal document that directs the disposition of your assets after your death. It does not take effect until after the death of the person who wrote the will, also called a testator.
What does a will ensure?
A person who dies without a will is called “intestate,” and in that situation, state laws regarding inheritance determine asset distribution regardless of what the deceased person may have wanted.
That is, under intestacy laws, a distant relative could end up inheriting a deceased person's estate instead of his or her lifelong companion. A last will ensures that a testator’s wishes regarding asset distribution is followed and that the state’s intestacy laws do not kick in.
Having a last will and testament also ensures that you have chosen the executor of the estate, the person in charge of making sure all your bequests are carried out. Without a will, a court will appoint someone to administer your estate, and that person may not be someone you would choose.
Moreover, in your will, you can name a guardian for your children as well as set aside funds to ensure their support and comfort as they grow up. You may also choose to provide for the care of pets after your death in your will.
Should you have a will?
No matter your age or financial status, it’s never too early or too late to think about writing a will. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you should strongly consider executing a valid will as soon as possible.
- Do you have children?
- Do you have any assets you would like to go to certain people?
- Do you have pets you would like to provide for after your death?
Remember that wills are not only for wealthy people — even those of very modest means may want to be sure that certain possessions go to particular people and especially that their minor children are provided for.
Tips for writing a will
What follows are some steps you can follow when you’re ready to write a will in order to make sure that you are as thorough as possible.
1. Make a list of everyone you would like to inherit from your estate.
2. Make a list of your assets, both real and personal property, including homes, land, bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, insurance policies, family heirlooms, etc.
3. Make a list of your debts, including mortgages, loans, credit cards, etc.
4. Gather copies of important documents, including existing wills, trusts, marriage and divorce records, prenuptial agreements, property deeds, etc.
Do you need a lawyer to write a will?
While obtaining professional advice when executing a will is not a legal necessity, you should be aware that a will must meet certain requirements as provided by state law in order to be valid.
In any event, once you have all of your information in order, you can either hire an attorney or simply go online, where you can find do-it-yourself forms or work with an online service that may also provide some legal guidance.
Is an online will valid?
Online wills, or more specifically wills drafted online, are valid so long as they meet state-specific requirements regarding the content and execution of wills. Because state laws vary, it is imperative that you are sure your will complies with your state’s laws.
What should you do after you execute a valid will?
Once you have executed your will, you should let people, such as loved ones and/or a family attorney, know where the will is located. You should also remember to periodically update the document to make sure it reflects your current life circumstances (marriages, divorces, births, etc.).