What Do I Need to Know About Writing a Will?
Have you written your will yet?
If you haven’t, the thought of writing a will can be daunting. And if you have, what happens if you need to make a change? And is your will legally binding?
If you have questions about writing a will, we have answers.
Louise Procter, a content writer for content for Wyatts Compensation Lawyers, a well-known law firm in the heart of Sydney, Australia, has joined us to demystify everything about writing and maintaining a will.
What is the purpose of a will?
A will isn’t just about making arrangements for where your money will go. A will is to plan out anything and everything that should happen when you pass.
Louise explains, “A will should outline your wishes regarding your funeral arrangements, the care of any dependent children, what should happen to your estate and your money, and who should be responsible for carrying out those instructions.”
If you don’t map this out in your will, your family will undoubtedly go through an even tougher time in the event of your death.
When should you create a will?
If you don’t have a will yet, odds are it’s time to make one!
Louise explains, “While you may be young, fit and healthy, it’s wise to remember that life is remarkably fragile, and accidents can and do happen.”
In the United States, you’re able to write a will at the age of 18. If you’re over 18, and especially if you’re married or have any assets, you ought to get started.
I don’t have a lot of money – why do I need a will?
Even if you don’t have much money in savings, a will is still incredibly important.
“Writing a will is the only way of making sure that your wishes regarding your funeral, children and estate are carried out after your death,” says Louise.
What you do have should go to your loved ones, and the details of your funeral can be mapped out for your family. If they have to make all these decisions, fighting could break out, or they could resent you for not making any of these decisions.
“Stating your intentions in a will helps prevent any tensions between beneficiaries (people who benefit from your will), over how your estate is to be divided,” Louise continues.
If you have any family heirlooms, make sure you state who they should go to in your will. A sticky note or word-of-mouth statement won’t do the job.
What makes a will legal?
Like most legal things in the states, the law differs by state as to what makes a will legally binding.
Here are some things to consider when creating a will:
- Make sure your will is in writing – preferably typed, as that’s accepted in more states than is a handwritten will.
- Sign and date your will before 2 disinterested adult witnesses.
- The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries under the will, and they must be able to attest to your identity and state of mind.
- Be over 18 and of sound mind.
- You must sign the will free from duress or coercion.
- Include a statement explaining that this is your last will and testament.
- State the location in which you signed the will.
- Include a statement that you signed this before witnesses who also signed it and watched each other sign it in your presence.
Not all states require your will to be notarized, but if you do notarize it, the will becomes “self-proving.”
Can you write a will on your own, or do you need a lawyer?
You don’t need a lawyer to write a will, though it certainly can help to make sure you don’t forget anything.
You also don’t have to file your will with the state – just be sure to keep it in a safe place, and make sure your loved ones know where to find it.
If you have a lot of money, assets, or information to include in your will, it’s much better to get a lawyer to help you. If your will isn’t completely clear, it can be deemed invalid, or your family can contest it, which will cause complete and utter chaos. Not good.
What if I never write a will?
If you choose to skip writing a will – or you just don’t get it done in time – you lose the chance to determine your final wishes. This situation is called dying intestate. Each state has their own intestacy laws, so it’s hard to say conclusively what will happen.
But Louise does say that in most cases, the court will determine what happens. She explains, “Your estate is distributed at the discretion of a court, usually in accordance with strict legal procedure. The court appoints a trustee to oversee the distribution of your assets. If there are minors (children) involved, the court will be responsible for appointing a guardian for them, too.”
How do you write a will?
When you compare a will to all the other legal documents out there, it’s actually one of the easiest ones to complete.
If you consult a lawyer, you won’t have to worry about it, but if you want to go the DIY route, you can certainly use a template. There are loads of templates online. The one from legaltemplates.net is a good one – https://legaltemplates.net/form/last-will-testament/.
Templates cover all your bases by making sure the proper statements are included.
Is writing a will expensive?
If you write your will by yourself, it’s free! Just use one of the templates from the internet, and you’re good to go.
If you consult a lawyer, it just depends on their fees, where you live, and how complex your estate is. In general – and this ranges a lot – you can expect a couple hundred dollars for a lawyer to help with your will.
You can also use LegalZoom, which is an online service that ranges from $69-$149, depending on how much help you want from a lawyer.
Can you make changes to your will?
Not only can you make changes to your will, but you should on a semi-regular basis.
Louise explains, “Your will should be reviewed periodically, and it must be re-written if your wishes regarding any of the stated information change.”
Louise advises paying special attention to your will at these critical points in your life:
- Marriage, or getting re-married (marriage will abrogate any previous will)
- If you become divorced (divorce does not automatically abrogate a will)
- Acquisition of significant assets or starting up a business
Can I see an example of a will?
Wills, especially when they’re written by a lawyer or come from a template, are quite boring to read.
They’re written in legal language, and they’re very unambiguous to make sure that your wishes are crystal clear.
You can read a full example of a basic will with explanations and annotations over at FindLaw.
Making sure you have a legally binding will is only one part of your overall life plan.
If you’re nearing retirement or are into your 60s, it’s important to take some time on the following:
- Get introduced to Medicare
- Know your insurance options as well as potential risks
- Make sure your savings are earning you interest
- Make sure none of your assets are at risk
These are just a few of the things our team will help you with when you’re ready to make plans.
Schedule an easy phone call with one of our specialists for a free Medicare planner. You’ll be glad you did.
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