Making a will: A quick checklist

Does writing a will sound like an intimidating task? This checklist makes gathering the information you need easy and stress-free.

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by Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

Having a last will and testament ensures your wishes will be followed and your loved ones are taken care of after your death.

It may seem like a daunting task, but this easy-to-follow framework will help you gather everything you need to make a will.

After you have all the information and documents you need, making your will is as easy as sitting down and doing it.

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Who will be your beneficiaries?

When you are ready to write your last will, think about who among your loved ones you would like to inherit real and/or personal property from you.

Listing your beneficiaries may seem unnecessary, but remember recent births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc., may influence who you wish to include in your will. At this point, you don't need to specify who you want to receive what; just focus on the people involved so you know you won't be forgetting anyone.

Also know that disinheriting your spouse and/or children may not be possible in some jurisdictions.

What are your assets?

Make a list of significant assets you will want to leave to loved ones. Start with the big stuff like houses, vehicles, and family businesses, and then work your way down to smaller items like jewelry or family heirlooms.

Some assets cannot be bequeathed within a will (or may be better handled in other ways such as living trusts), but at this point, you should get all the assets down on paper so you know what you're dealing with.

When listing your assets, remember you can only distribute property you own solely. That is, if you are married and your spouse holds joint title on an asset, you cannot leave that property to someone else in your will.

List your debts

Make a list of all of your debts, including but not limited to the following:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loans/leases
  • Credit cards
  • Student loans
  • Personal loans
  • Outstanding taxes

Although you won't be leaving your debts to anyone in your will, it is helpful to get an idea of your estate's overall financial status so you can plan accordingly regarding funeral expenses, probate costs, and taxes.

Some debts may become the responsibility of the estate, so you may want to consider taking out a life insurance policy to help cover certain expenses after your death.

Name an executor

The person who will handle your estate and the provisions in your will is called the executor. You designate this person in the will.

You should make sure the executor will be up to the task of handling your estate and also that the person is open to accepting the responsibility.

Having an alternate executor in mind is a good idea in case your first choice can't serve.

Who will be your guardians?

If you have minor children, your will is the perfect place to name a guardian for them should their other parent be unable to care for them for whatever reason (including if both parents die at the same time).

You can also consider how you want to provide for the care of your children; you may want to leave someone else in charge of property they will inherit until the children reach the age of majority.

After you've made your will

As you can see, making a will doesn’t have to be a complicated or time-consuming task. With a little bit of planning, you'll have all the information you need to do it. You might even be able to simply enter it into a last will and testament form to create a valid will.

Once you have written a will and made sure it complies with your state's law regarding the execution of wills, you should store it somewhere safe and let others know where to find it.

Your job regarding your will still isn't done, though, as you should periodically revisit it to make sure it still represents your wishes—yearly around your birthday is a good time to do so.

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Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

About the Author

Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

Freelance writer and editor Michelle Kaminsky, Esq. has been working with LegalZoom since 2004. She earned a Juris Docto… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.