It might not be something you look forward to doing, but creating a will is an important task in life. It’s a way of passing on assets — financial and otherwise — to loved ones (as well as causes and charities that are important to you) and ensuring that your final wishes are carried out.
But whether you’re an older adult creating your free last will and testament for estate planning purposes, or a new parent drafting up a will with your minor children in mind, it’s a good idea to know how to get started and what to include.
So, what’s the best way to write a will? Is it something that’s wise to take on yourself, or should you seek the help of a professional such as an estate planning attorney?
There are two basic ways to go about it: Writing it yourself, or having a lawyer do it. Let’s explore the various options for writing a will yourself, and also take a look at the lawyer route.
We’ve also included some information that may help if you plan on approaching this sensitive subject with your mom or dad.
Writing Your Own Will
You might be surprised to learn that it’s easier than ever to create a free last will and testament yourself. That’s thanks to the wealth of information that can be found online, plus the convenience of digital willmakers, online template tools, and will forms.
But what should be included in a will? How do you use a template tool, and how do you make the document legal?
Making a Will: What to Include
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for wills, and two separate wills might look very different from each other. As an adult daughter or son, it’s wise to be informed about what should be included in a will. This will not only help you get your own affairs in order, but you can also pass along the information to your parent if they haven’t already created a will.
It’s never fun or easy thinking about — let alone taking the actual steps toward — planning end-of-life details, but it’s so important. A good last will and testament will do the following:
Cover the basics.
It’s a good idea that the first paragraph of a will declares that the willmaker (for example, your mom or dad) is of sound mind. The document must also include the willmaker’s full name, signature, and the names and signatures of at least two witnesses who were present for the signing of the will.
Choose an executor.
The will must name an executor who will be responsible for ensuring that the willmaker’s final wishes are met. The executor will handle all final affairs, including filing taxes, paying final bills, communicating with all of the will’s beneficiaries, and distributing assets.
The specific person who serves as executor is usually a family member, but it doesn’t have to be. In any case, it should be someone who is responsible, a good communicator, and has a knack for deftly navigating difficult times in the family.
Take note that a power of attorney is different than an executor. They both serve as a personal representative for the willmaker, but at different times. Someone with power of attorney is only a legal representative for someone who is still alive — once a person has passed, the executor is in charge of all property and assets.
Beneficiaries are the people or institutions (like charities or hospitals, for example) who receive the assets after the willmaker passes away. If these people or institutions aren’t designated in the will, the assets won’t end up where you wanted them to. It’s also smart to make sure that beneficiaries (and even an alternate beneficiary) are named in other assets outside of the will, such as on life insurance policies.
There are two types of assets to be concerned with: Personal property and financial property. Personal property includes real estate and physical valuables, like household items, furniture, jewelry, china, artwork, etc. Financial property could include things like money in savings accounts or other types of bank accounts, retirement savings, and life insurance policies. Make the directions for distributing and dividing these properties as clear as possible so there is no room for ambiguity.
Remember: The above steps are just the basics when it comes to writing a last will and testament. Declaring that the willmaker is of sound mind and naming witnesses, declaring an executor and designating beneficiaries, and dividing up assets are the major concerns of any will. But it can become more complex depending on the willmaker’s circumstances and desires. It’s also worth noting that a will can also be adjusted or modified with a codicil, which is an addendum to a last will and testament.
Using a Template to Make a Free Last Will and Testament
For many people, using a free last will and testament template program online is a much easier way to create a will. Making the will online using a trusted software or program will allow you to breathe easier — you’ll know that you’ve created a sound legal document that will effectively distribute your assets and execute your final wishes.
There are a few different types of will-making tools. There are will books, which provide instructions for filling out last will and testament forms and also offer additional advice on estate planning, dividing and distributing assets, and other details.
Will software, sometimes called estate planning software, makes it even easier. These programs ask the willmaker a variety of questions. The program will then use those answers to build the will automatically. Once that’s done, you can simply print out the page or PDF document.
Online will programs are usually an easy-to-use and effective way for anyone (including older adults) to create a will without much expense or confusing processes. So how does a free last will and testament become a binding legal document?
Making It Legal
The first step to making the will a legal document is to make sure the willmaker signs it, and that it includes at least two witness signatures.
After that, it depends on the local laws of your province. You may want to get the will notarized, but this isn’t always necessary. Your best course of action is to research the guidelines and laws where you live and go from there. Then you can know for sure that you’ve created a legal will that suits your needs.
Having a Lawyer Create Your Will
Sometimes, having a professional handle things is the wisest route to take, especially if there is tension, conflict, or rivalry in the family or between siblings. If your parent decides to hire a lawyer to help create their will, they’ll pay more money in legal fees and such than they would writing it themselves. But they’ll have the assurance that it’s done properly by a professional and covers everything they need to prevent confusion and conflict after they’ve passed.
At the first meeting with an estate planning attorney, the lawyer will ask a series of questions to get an idea of what needs to be covered in the will itself. These questions might include things like:
- How will the willmaker’s assets be divided after their death?
- Who will be the executor of the will? Will an alternate executor be named?
- Who will real estate and property be left to?
- Who will financial assets be left to?
- If there is a surviving spouse, what assets do they maintain control of (retirement accounts, life insurance policies, etc.)?
- Does the willmaker want to be buried or cremated?
- Does the willmaker want a funeral and a viewing? Who will pay for funeral expenses?
- Does the willmaker want to set up a trust fund for children or other loved ones?
Another great advantage of using a lawyer to help create a will is that you have their legal advice if you need it. That means you can come to the attorney with any questions you have throughout the entire legal process of creating a will.
You’ll also have an advocate should the will have to go to probate court, which involves the last will and testament being validated by a court for authenticity. This could happen if there are prior wills, or if more than one person claims to be the executor. If your parent creates one will and gets it right the first time, though, it’s unlikely that you’ll have to enter the probate process.
Another reason that probate court might be necessary is if the person is intestate when they pass away. This means that they have died without having a legal will. In that case, the situation goes through the probate process in order for all assets to be divided and distributed. Preventing intestacy is one of the best reasons for Mom or Dad to draft up a will as early as possible.
How to Write a Free Last Will and Testament With No Hassles
It could feel like an overwhelming process to think about one’s mortality (or your parent’s eventual passing). But it’s important to remember that creating a free last will and testament can provide some peace of mind about your final wishes being fulfilled. What’s more, with different options available, creating a last will and testament is not as complicated as it may seem.
Whether you choose to go the DIY route and write a will yourself, or you seek the help of an estate planning attorney, taking a calculated, step-by-step approach is the best way to make sure that the end result is a valid will that covers everything it needs to.
Have you recently created a will? Do you have more advice on what should be included? We’d love to hear what you have to say.