A will is a critical legal document and one of the best ways to assure your wishes are followed after your death. A will determines not only what happens to your assets and how property is distributed, but it can also direct what happens to your children, pets—even your debts.
While it may be emotionally difficult to consider your own mortality, thinking about what you want to happen is the first step toward making it happen. Putting your wishes in writing helps avoid confusion and disagreement among your loved ones.
Here are 6 steps to consider as you prepare a will.
1. Gather your thoughts
The will directs what happens to property after the owner's death. But wills can also have a strong emotional impact on loved ones. Take a moment to think about those who will need to be taken care of. Make a list. Who will have custody of your children? Who gets the deed to the family house? Who will take care of Mr. Sprinkles, the family cat?
2. Take inventory
Make a list of everything you—and if applicable, your spouse—own. To the extent you can, note how you own each asset—as husband and wife, as a sole owner, as a joint owner with siblings, etc. Note any other parties who also have an interest in your assets. Make a note of your debts, too.
3. Plan for distribution of your assets
As your list of assets comes together, start making notes on how everything should be distributed. If you want a family heirloom or amount of money to go to a certain friend or organization, this is the time to specify.
4. Select an executor
An executor is the person responsible for making sure your wishes are honored after your death. This person will also be responsible for taking care of any legal paperwork. Since this role is quite important, be sure to talk to the person you're considering as the executor of your will. It is recommended that you select a backup executor in the event your first choice is unable to carry out his or her duties under your will.
5. Make it official
Consult your family attorney or use a legal service like LegalZoom to make your will official.
6. Get witnesses
Find at least two people who will serve as witnesses to your will. These should be disinterested parties who are not mentioned in your will. Determine how many witnesses are required by the laws of the state in which you are making the will, and whether there are any other formalities.
Once your will has been finalized, keep it in a safe place at your home. Creating your will may take a little bit of time, but knowing your loved ones will be taken care of is worth the effort. Start thinking about it today.