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How to Set Up a Will

It’s true that creating a will is a somewhat sobering acceptance of your someday fate. However, creating a will is still a highly responsible act of love and care and something you do to provide for your family members. 

We’ll guide you through the items you need before you get started, offer you several options for actually getting your will (getting a lawyer, online service or doing it yourself) and take you through the steps you can complete in order to get your will in no time at all. 

Main Takeaways: How to Set Up a Will

  • Take the necessary steps to prepare. This includes gathering important documents, researching which type of will you want and more.
  • Develop your plan. What will go on your will and who will execute once it’s time to divvy up your possessions?
  • Choose a method of producing your will. There are many options to actually create your will, including using a lawyer or service. Assess which method is right for you.
  • Execute on your will. Once you begin setting up your will, you will have to choose an executor, decide on a guardian for your kids and more. We explore what you need to know below.

What You’ll Need Before You Get Started

There are several considerations you’ll need to think about before you get started, including the documents you’ll need to have and the costs involved.

Documents 

Depending on what kind of service you choose (whether you go to a lawyer’s office or opt to do an online version of your will) you’ll need certain documents but may not need others included in our roundup. At the very least, here are some documents to have handy when you’re in planning mode: 

  • Copies of all estate planning documents you’ve had prior to your will. 
  • Financial statements that show what you own, how title is held (in the case of a home, for example) and approximate value of those assets. Life insurance amounts should also be included.
  • Any real estate property tax bills and deeds. 
  • Examples of ownership in other assets, including businesses you own.
  • A list of family members, or better yet, a family tree, so anyone who needs to know after your death can clearly see a linked path to your descendants.

Cost

Similar to the documents you need, cost depends on the type of service you use. The cost of making an online will typically ranges from $20 to $100, but it can get even cheaper than that.

For a mere $5 to $20, you can also buy a standard will and testament on already-printed forms sold at office supply stores like OfficeMax, Office Depot or Staples. 

Your most expensive option will likely be hiring a lawyer, who might charge anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to create a will. The cost for a lawyer will ultimately depend on where you live and how complex your personal situation is with regard to your finances and estate.

Know What Type of Will You Want

There are several different types of wills you can consider, though you may need help determining the type of will that’s your best fit by someone who has legal expertise. 

Simple or Statutory Will: A simple or statutory will is a general document that works well for people with small, uncomplicated estates. You can fill in the blanks on a state-specific template that contains specific terms that meet your state’s requirements.

Pour-Over Will: Have you set up a living trust? You can use this type of will to name the trust as your primary beneficiary. Probate assets not already named in the trust will go into this when you die and be distributed according to its terms.

Conditional or Contingent Wills: Conditional or contingent wills are only valid if a certain event occurs. For example, maybe you decide that you will give your children everything once they reach a certain age. The estate can be distributed as if no will existed if you die before your children reach that certain age.

Couple’s Wills: There are 3 types of wills couples may choose to prepare. They can prepare reciprocal or mirror wills, joint wills or mutual wills. Each type is similar in look but typically addresses leaving everything to the other person in the event of the other spouse’s death.

Living Will: A living will is not a document that relates to your assets after you die. Instead, it sets out instructions for what type of medical treatment you’d like to have if you’re incapacitated and cannot communicate. A good example of this could be whether you want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing.

Step 1: Make a Plan 

As you make a plan, be sure to get your spouse and partner on board. While this can be a delicate subject, it’s important to have his or her cooperation in order to get the job done. Think through a few things before you march into a lawyer’s office or pick another type of service. Think through: 

  • Who you’d like your beneficiaries to be, or the individuals who get your assets when you die. 
  • Who the executor will be (this is the individual tasked with making sure your wishes are carried out appropriately).
  • Select a guardian for your children.
  • Think about who gets what when you die, such as valuable artwork, a restored antique car, a set of prized golf clubs, etc.
  • Determine whether you want to include an advance directive as well. Advance directives are legal documents that clearly state how you’d like to approach end-of-life care ahead of time. You can make your wishes known to family and health care professionals as well.

Finally, decide whether you want to set up a will yourself or hire someone to help you. 

Step 2: Choose a Method 

Do you consider yourself smack dab in the middle class? Or are you a multimillionaire? If you’re the latter, you might benefit from hiring a tax attorney. On the other hand, anyone can consider an online service provider such as Trust & Will.

There are 3 primary ways you can get a will: 

  1. Use a lawyer. A lawyer can offer you a method to be sure that everything is done the way it should be for your state laws. A lawyer can also speak specifically about tax advantages. He or she will also consider your own specific circumstances, especially tricky circumstances. For example, you may want to want to disinherit a spouse, and that would likely require a lawyer’s services. 
  2. Use an electronic service. Electronic services are more cost-effective options than hiring a lawyer, and you’ll get a step-by-step walkthrough of a series of questions to help you create the will. You then need to print out the will and get it signed by at least 2 witnesses and notarized. Most online software programs for wills also let you go back into the will and make changes or additions to the document later on as you see fit.
  3. Do it yourself. DIY options are another option and obviously the least expensive approach. In other words, you type up on a piece of paper all the possessions you own and call it good. You’ll have to be absolutely sure you know what you’re doing so you don’t improperly execute a DIY will. 

Step 3: Select Your Beneficiaries

You may know immediately who you want your home, money and other assets to go to when you die, but it’s important to make sure you’ve got an up-to-date beneficiary list.

An online will website already includes one on the form. An attorney, on the other hand, will be sure to specifically ask about your beneficiary designations, though if anything changes, it’s a little tougher to do; just adding a new beneficiary to an online form or taking someone off is much easier.

Step 4: Choose Your Executor 

The executor of your will makes sure that all your wishes are carried out. In other words, this trusted person will divvy up assets to the people you’ve designated. For example, if you’re planning to give your great-niece your valuable china set, your executor will make sure your niece gets the china set. 

Many times, individuals select their bank or attorney as the executor of the will, which adds a bit of a fee to the picture. If the executor is a trusted person, it’s a good idea to be sure that he or she is compensated as well, because executing a will can be a taxing job.

Step 5: Decide on a Guardian for Your Kids

Carefully consider and be sure to get permission from the individuals you’d like to be your kids’ guardian. You may want to consider asking a “spare” set of guardians.

For example, perhaps you choose your sister and brother-in-law to be the guardians of your children, but then they get a divorce or pass away. Having a backup set of guardians might be a smart move. That way, you’d have 2 backups on the list to take your children in the event that you die unexpectedly.

Step 6: Be Very Clear About Your Intentions

It’s easy to make assumptions when you’re drafting your will. After all, you may be positive that everyone will just know that you want your great-niece to have the china set, and you may be sure that everyone knows just as well as you do that your granddaughter gets the silver tea service. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s really important to spell everything out exactly according to your wishes, otherwise your intentions could very well be missed. 

Set Up a Will for the Future

Setting up a will is one of the best ways to help put your loved ones’ minds at ease when you pass away. It’s one of the most important ways to provide for your family members and divvy up your assets exactly how you envisioned. 

Still not sure which service you prefer? Trust & Will can give you a complete will in minutes, starting at $69, and you can specify your preferences for health care and medical treatment. Your family can use your preferences for health care as a guide if you are ever incapacitated. Trust & Will’s documents have been designed and vetted by attorneys with decades of estate planning experience. 

Finally, if you’re dissatisfied with your completed documents, you can contact Trust & Will within 30 days of your purchase for a full refund, without any strings attached.

Exploring options you have with your assets? Learn whether setting up a trust is right for you, and how to make the most of your assets now with our investing guides.

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