Updated July 12, 2019. Creating a will certainly feels daunting, given the nature of the task (if you aren't sure if you need a will, read this primer.) But if you have a modest or straightforward estate, it's relatively easy to ensure your assets go to your loved ones after you die.
Here is how to get your will done in 15 minutes or less.
1. Pick your provider
You've got a few options when it comes to putting together a legal will. If you have a complex estate or multiple loved ones you want to leave wealth or property to, you probably want to hire an estate planning lawyer.
If you have a simple estate, you can probably go the more affordable do-it-yourself route. You can create an online will, using a service like Trust & Will, LegalZoom or Willing. Most platforms charge less than $100 to write a basic will. (Editor's Note: Trust & Will is a Policygenius partner. You can use promo code "protectmylegacy" to get $10 off your estate plan.)
It's also possible to download a free template online and fill out the forms on your own.
2. Provide the pertinent information
Wills don't have to contain a ton of information, but expect to outline the following:
A declaration that you are of sound mind and body
Basic personal information, including state of residence, marital status and number of children in your family
Review of debts, including medical bills, attorney fees and funeral expenses
Specific bequests, exclusions or final requests
You'll also need to nominate people for certain responsibilities upon your death.
3. Name your beneficiaries
The beneficiary is the person or organization who will receive your assets after you die. You can have multiple beneficiaries and divide your estate however you want.
If you don’t name a beneficiary, or don't have a will at all, your spouse is automatically considered the heir to your estate, followed by your children.
If you have minor children, you will need to nominate a guardian in your will in case your spouse dies before you. You can also nominate guardians for any family pets.
Learn more about beneficiaries here.
4. Nominate an executor
The executor is the person who enforces your will after you die. He or she should be someone you trust, like your estate planner. You're also allowed to nominate one of your beneficiaries, but you don't have to.
You can even nominate multiple executors to administer your estate as a group.
Make sure your intended executor is on board ahead of time. The executor is allowed to decline the nomination, so make sure you pick some co-executors to fill in.
5. Get the will notarized
For your new will to be legally binding, you need to sign the paperwork along with two witnesses. In many states, your witness can't be an executor or beneficiary.
You should also take the extra step of getting a notary's seal of approval. If you don't, a court will have to decide whether the will is valid during probate, the legal process of proving a will.
Store your will in a safe deposit or fire box. Keep an extra copy on hand for reference — and update the document when applicable. The process of amending your will after it's initially drafted is known as "adding a codicil."
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Image: Kirstin Mckee