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How to Make a Will and Protect Those You Love

Today I’m going to talk about a personal finance related topic that many people ignore – how to make a will. In fact, this topic is more avoided than you think. A recent survey at Caring.com showed that only 42% of Americans have estate planning documents. What’s even worse is that for those with children under the age of 18, the number drops to 36%. Yikes!

how to make a willIt’s not surprising a large number of people avoid making a will. Making a will requires a person to think about one very uncomfortable event – their death. I don’t think anyone of us is looking with anticipation towards that specific day.

However, the reality is this – that day WILL come. It is unavoidable. And the real truth of the matter is, we don’t know when it’s going to be. Not all of us are guaranteed to live to 100.

So before I get to how to make a will, I want to show you why it’s important and how it helps protect your family.

How a Will Protects Your Family

Contrary to what you might think, people do care about the distribution of your assets. They care because they love you and want your assets taken care of in a way that brings closure to your life and leaves a piece of you – a legacy if you will – that impacts future generations.

Unfortunately, there is another reason people care – because they are selfish. They want a piece of your assets for themselves. Many families are torn apart over the pain of a death and the infighting that ensues over who gets what.

We are emotional people. Death can bring out some of the deepest and darkest emotions imaginable. When we are in that state, we don’t think straight. We have difficulty making good decisions and we often say and do things we otherwise would not.

That’s why learning how to make a will is so important. A will outlines your concrete wishes that the executor of your estate is bound by law to uphold. It helps establish the parameters and rules by which your assets must be distributed.

I’ve been through this circumstance three times now in my life. As a high school student, I watched my dad be the executor of my grandfather’s estate. As an adult, I’ve been through it twice when my wife’s father and grandmother died. In each case, a clearly defined will allowed us to be objective about what needed to happen and helped us understand the wishes of our loved ones.

It lessened the emotional toil of going through all their stuff because we knew exactly what needed to happen with it. It didn’t make it easy. We were still sad. But following the will allowed us to honor their wishes in a way that made us feel some good on the inside.

Don’t Let Someone Else Decide

A will gives you control. It allows you to tell the court how you want your assets distributed. This is all done in probate court.

In probate, there is a legal recording of your death and it is made known to the public. Additionally, your creditors (those you owe money) are notified. They are allowed to make any claims against the estate. Debts are paid from the estate if there is money to pay them. The remaining assets are then distributed to the beneficiaries of the will.

If you do not have a will, then who decides what happens? Your family? No – it is left up to the court system in whatever state you live. Their laws and formulas will govern the distribution of your assets.

So, let me ask you a question. Do you want the court system to determine where your property goes? These are government officials you have never met and who don’t personally know the members of your family.

Most likely they will try to be fair. But why leave it in their hands? Why leave it to chance? There simply is no need to go that route. Take control of this process yourself.

Misconceptions About Making a Will

If you’ve ever thought about how to make a will, you may have come to several conclusions.

First, you may think it’s going to be difficult. Secondly, you may believe that you don’t have the time to put one together. Finally, it may occur to you that you don’t have the assets for anyone to really care about.

All three of these ideas would be inaccurate.

Most people need a simple, basic will. It’s not difficult once you know what to put into it. You can complete one in a few hours.

And as I mentioned before, your family does care about your assets, no matter how big or small. You owe it to them to outline your wishes for whatever it is you own.

Before I go through the basic steps of how to make a will, a disclaimer is needed. Your family circumstances are unique. The more complicated the situation and the more assets you have, the deeper and more involved making a will is going to become. If you feel uncomfortable doing it yourself, consult an attorney to draw up your estate plan.

Most people though, can do it themselves.

How to Make a Will

For those do-it-yourselfers, there are several tools to help you create a will. Each have their own pros and cons. The one we used to build our will was Quicken Willmaker Plus, which is one of many software items found at the legal sight Nolo.com. It is the #1 estate planning software out there. 

The great thing I like about using this software is that it guides you right through the process. It uses simple language that is easy for the everyday person to understand. You don’t have to write in all the legalese because the software does that for you. Just fill in the blanks and fields the software directs you to.

In your will, you will want to include the following basic things

1. Your identification. State your full legal name and gender.

2. Describe your family dynamics. Are you single, married? What is the name of your spouse or partner? List the names and ages of any children or grandchildren. And don’t forget the pets if you want them taken care of in any particular way.

3. Name a legal guardian for your children. This could be a family member or close friend that you have already communicated with about taking care of your children.

4. Outline the distribution of your property. You can choose to leave this to one person or organization or divide it up among several recipients. Make sure you list separately any specific items you’d like to leave to someone in particular.

Related Content: Should I Leave an Inheritance to My Children?

5. State how your property should be managed. This is important if you have beneficiaries who are young. You will want a trusted adult to manage the property for them until they are old enough to do it themselves. Usually money for young people is put into a child’s trust or managed through the Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UTMA). (LINKS here)

6. You should list whether any debts from people who owe you money are to be cancelled or not.

7. Choose an executor for your estate. An executor is the person who is responsible for following the instructions of your will. The executor safeguards your property. They pay your debts and taxes and distribute your assets to the beneficiaries you list.

Other Considerations When Making a Will

The items listed above represent the basics of what to put in a will. But there are other things to consider for specific circumstances. Quicken Willmaker will help you through all these as well.

You should also consider:

1. Writing up a Health Care Directive. A Health Care Directive outlines what types of medical treatment you do or do not want to receive at the end of your life. This is important because at the end of your life you may not be able to speak for yourself.

2. Making a Durable Power of Attorney for your finances. If you are in poor health, you may not be able to manage your day-to-day financial matters. By drawing up this document, you give legal authority to the person you designate to pay your bills, file your taxes and conduct other personal finance matters as needed.

3. Drawing up your final arrangements. Your final arrangements describe how you want your body to be disposed of (i.e. burial, cremation). You can also share what you want done at your ceremony or if you want your organs donated. In sections like this, it’s important to be specific so your loved ones know exactly what you desired.

4. Final instructions or information. This addendum would include any other details about your life or final instructions on your property. You might also want to include written explanations for why you made certain decisions regarding the distribution of your assets. This may keep there from being confusion or hurt feelings about why you did what you did.

How to Make a Will Conclusion

There is no time like the present to create a will. The stakes are that high. And if you have children, it becomes even more critical.

Once you create a will, don’t forget to update it from time to time. The will is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind document. We don’t review it all the time like a monthly budget. Instead, we put it in the fire safe box and forget about it. But you need to look over it routinely, especially when big life events happen or your circumstances change.

I’ve found that using the Quicken Willmaker software takes the guesswork out of the process. It helps you work though the details so they are not confusing to your loved ones. You will relieve them of frustration if you make a will that is clear and detailed. It will be your last parting gift  to show how much you love them.

Questions for Discussion: Have you worried about how to make a will? What is holding you back? What are the biggest questions for you about the will making process? How have you seen a will hurt or help a family?  

Image by eldar nurkovic at Shutterstock.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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