Here’s a sobering thought: No matter where we are financially, professionally or physically, we’re all heading toward the same fate—death. Yep, super pleasant.
And while we mostly like to avoid thinking about it, the fact is that no one knows when that fateful day will occur, just that it’s going to occur. So preparing for it now might not be the worst idea, right? Luckily, there are many ways to take control over the uncontrollable, like drawing up a will.
Why You Need a Will
Creating a will while you’re alive and well is not only a gift to yourself but also to your family.
“Figuring out who should be the executor or administrator of your wishes can be a difficult process in the absence of a will,” says Patrick Hicks, head of legal at Trust & Will. “Without any instructions, it’s tough to know who the deceased would have entrusted to manage their estate.”
It’s probably best not to just write “give everything to my cat” on a napkin, or worse, do nothing and leave it all to chance. You need a will—yes, even if you don’t have a ton of assets to leave behind.
A will, also known as a Last Will and Testament, is a document that outlines what to do with your belongings and assets upon your passing. This provides some agency regarding where your stuff and money end up. Plus, your heirs and beneficiaries will have less legal finagling to do.
Do you have children or fur babies? A will also allows you to name a future guardian for them, should something happen to you. “When most people think about their wills, they focus on their assets,” says Naomi Becker Collier, partner and co-chair of Trusts & Estates/Elder Law Practice at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, P.C. “But a thoughtful will can accomplish so much more, including how those assets will be distributed, if money should be protected in a trust and who should be appointed to fulfill various fiduciary roles that become important upon your death.”
What to Include in Your Will
In general, you should include all your assets in your will—which can span many things.
“Assets can include real estate or property; intangible personal property like a business; stocks and bonds; intellectual property like patents, copyrights and royalties; cash in savings and checking accounts or in money markets; and valuables like collectibles, artwork, cars, jewelry or family heirlooms,” explains Hicks. “It’s also important to consider your digital assets.”
Here’s a simple breakdown of what to include:
- Your full name
- Your date of birth
- Your home address
- Names of family members
- An executor, who will do the heavy lifting of carrying out your wishes in the will
- A guardian for your children or your beloved pets
- Belongings (perhaps you want to give your vintage record collection to your jazz-loving best friend)
- Property (who will get the house?)
- Assets (which person/parties/organization should get your money?)
- Beneficiaries, or the people that stand to receive the assets
- Your signature (you may need witnesses to sign as well, so check with your state)
On top of listing out assets, beneficiaries and guardians, there is certain language you need to use and legal steps to take to solidify your wishes.
Making It Official
Of course, it’s not as simple as writing up that list and done. Your will should include language that explicitly states that the document is your Last Will and Testament. So a statement that reads, “I, [full name], hereby declare that this is my last will and testament,” is already a great start.
But before totally DIY-ing it, look up any rules or guidelines about wills in your state. For example, the state of Maryland requires that two witnesses sign your will in your presence. You can even file your will with the Register of Wills for around $5 for further legitimacy and peace of mind.
You can also create a will using Trust & Will or Quicken WillMaker & Trust. If you have a complex estate or anything you want guidance on, you can also work with an estate planning attorney to make sure all your T’s are crossed and your I’s are dotted.
Millie content is licensed from Meredith Corporation, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle and more.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and author of blog and book “Dear Debt,” in which she chronicles her journey out of $81,000 in student loan debt. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, VICE and Allure, among other publications.