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You Should Create a Will. Here's how.

Having a plan in place for when you are gone is very important, especially if you are leaving people behind. The estate process can be complicated and messy if not planned well. Without a will, your assets will pass according to state law in what is called intestate succession. In order to choose where your assets go after you die, you will need to set up a will. One of the best ways to help make sure your family will have a smoother process and be taken care of well after you die is to create or update a will. Thankfully it can be fairly straightforward and cheap to make a simple will. Hiring an estate attorney is important for larger or more complex estate.

Decide what to include in your will. Take time to write out all of your belongings and savings and assets. Pull together paperwork for your home and real estate, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts.

Be specific. Think about your spouse, children, and extended family. Drill down into each asset and decide who will get what. Remember that if you own a home with a spouse or someone else, the property will automatically go to the other person on the title. So a will cannot overrule who gets the property and the same goes for beneficiaries of any life insurance or retirement accounts. Make sure to have updated beneficiary information for all of your IRAs and 401(k) accounts and insurance policies.

Select your beneficiaries. You can leave everything to a surviving spouse or can leave percentages or set dollar amounts to children or extended family. Record your selections, but remember that beneficiaries of accounts and life insurance policies trump any elections made in a will.

Choose an executor for your will. The executor is the person who reads your will and makes sure your wishes are carried out. They will make sure the special items get to the right people and will use the funds in your estate to take care of paying any debts you still owe. Picking an executor is an important decision. Make sure you select someone who can be level-headed and ethical and responsible if you pass away. You can select a family member or an attorney to take on this job. Attorneys are normally paid from funds in the estate, but each state has specific laws.

Name guardians for children. If you have children who are minors, it is important to name their guardians in your will. This is an important decision as guardians will be the ones responsible for taking care of your children. Guardians should be people you trust and you should talk with whoever you are considering before making this decision. You may even want to set aside money for the guardians to help with taking care of your children. It is also helpful to give guardians access and authority to work with insurance or savings accounts you have set up for your kids.

Sign in front of witnesses. A written will is not valid unless it is signed and dated by the one writing the will and two witnesses. Your witnesses cannot be anyone who would inherit anything from your will. In addition, they should be people you know and have connect information for, because after you die, they may be called to appear in court to confirm their witness. Some states allow for a self-proving affidavit, which is a notarized document that confirms your witnesses saw you sign the will without requiring them to appear in court.

Let everyone know beforehand. It may be a good idea to alert everyone involved in the will so they know what to expect. Taking away the element of surprise can save some heartache down the road. Let executors and guardians know of their responsibilities ahead of time and remove the mystery of what is being left and to who.

Create a legacy drawer. It is recommended you store your will in a legacy drawer along with other important documents. This drawer should be waterproof and fireproof and include your will, estate plans, insurance policies, bank account details and passwords, tax returns, funeral instructions and any other important details to leave behind. Make sure several trusted people know about this drawer and how to access it so that if anything were to happen to you, the estate process will be significantly smoother for your loved ones.

Update your will as needed. You can revisit and update a will as your life changes. It is a good idea to look over your will every few years. Also make sure to update after any life events like marriage, divorce, having more children, or a family member passing away.

Making a will may be easier than you think. With a simple estate, you may be able to create a will online. If you have a large or more complex estate it is likely best to work with an estate attorney. Use a reputable site to create an online will to cover the basics or search for a reputable attorney in your area to help create your will.

Depending on your estate, it may make sense to use a trust instead of or in addition to a will.


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