Do you have a will? More than two-thirds of Americans don’t (opens in new tab). Many believe they do not have enough assets to leave anyone, others simply haven’t gotten around to it, and others still say a will is too expensive to set up.
But no matter how much or how little you own – or even how uncomfortable the idea of writing a will makes you feel – there are many reasons why you should make a will (opens in new tab), and it doesn’t have to cost hundreds of dollars either.
Most importantly, creating a will ensures your estate will distributed according to your wishes and that your family do not have to waste extra time, money and energy settling your affairs. Should you die without a will – known as dying intestate – state law will govern who gets your property and assets and this could result in loved ones missing out.
How to write a will for free
Hiring a lawyer to write your will is likely to be the most sensible option if your affairs are complex, as this will ensure everything has been considered correctly and will minimize the risk of mistakes.
However, if your financials are straightforward and you are confident you don’t need an advisor’s help deciding how your assets will be divided, you could save yourself hundreds of dollars on lawyer fees by drafting your own will for free.
Thanks to the internet, it is now easier than ever to strike out on your own and create a will, so here’s how to go about it…
1. Find an online will maker
The first step is to find the best online will maker (opens in new tab) as this will provide all the tools you need to outline your wishes from the comfort of your own home. A number of these packages won’t charge you a cent to use them, so take a look and compare your options.
Online will makers are generally easy to navigate and drafting your will can be completed in as little as 15 minutes – potentially less if your affairs are particularly straightforward. Step-by-step instructions will guide you through the process to ensure you create a will that is legitimate and, should you later need to alter your wishes, you’ll usually be able do so at no additional expense.
2. Decide how to divide your estate
When creating your will, it’s crucial that you are as clear as possible about how you want your assets to be passed on. Your significant assets should include real estate and land, jewelry, cars, artwork and bank accounts.
To reduce the risk of confusion, always use full, legal names of beneficiaries and consider naming a secondary beneficiary for each asset in the event you outlive the first.
3. Propose guardians for your children
The names and birth dates of any children you have should be listed in your will. You should also nominate a legal guardian who will look after them if you die while they are young – this will prevent the court making the decision on your behalf. Again, it can be wise to choose a secondary guardian in case you outlive the first.
4. Choose an executor
An executor is the person you nominate to deal with your estate when you pass away. It’s important that this is someone you trust as they might have to pay off bills, close financial accounts and notify banks and other financial organizations. There’s no reason why you can’t have more than one executor.
5. Name a “residual beneficiary”
Once the executor has fully distributed your assets and paid bills, debts and taxes, anything left over in your estate can be passed on to the “residual beneficiary”. This can be someone who has already benefited from your will, someone new, or a charity.
6. Keep your will safe
Once your will has been finalized, your will maker software will usually give you the option to download and print a hard copy of the document. You must keep this in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box, locked filing cabinet, or fireproof and waterproof metal box or home safe.
Be sure to tell your executor where to find the original document and you may want to give him or her a copy too.
Making sure your will is valid
Creating an online will is just as legal (opens in new tab) as a will drafted by a legal professional, providing it meets all the requirements of the state where it is executed (opens in new tab). This means it’s crucial that you check the rules specific to the state where you live. In some states it is legal to create handwritten or “holographic” wills, for example, while in others it is not.
Your will must also include your own signature, as well as the signatures of at least two witnesses (some states require three). Each witness must be at least 18 years old and should not be beneficiaries of your estate – this usually includes a beneficiary’s spouse.
Providing your will is created properly and witnessed, it does not need to be notarized (opens in new tab) if judged valid in court. However, to prevent delays in distributing your estate, it can be sensible to include a self-proving affidavit in most states. This is a short note that is taken as immediate proof of the will.
Further protection for your loved ones
Making a will is crucial if you want your estate to be passed on according to your wishes. However, it is just one part of ensuring your loved ones’ financial future will be protected if you are no longer around.
It is also prudent to consider the best final expense insurance (opens in new tab) to ensure your family will not be burdened with the cost of your funeral and burial. And choosing the best life insurance (opens in new tab) policy will give peace of mind that your loved ones will be financially secure if you were no longer there to provide for them.