According to a recent Caring.com survey, well over half of Americans think estate planning is important, and yet close to 70% of us don’t currently have any form of estate plan in place. In 2020, more people are citing cost and lack of knowledge as the reasons for putting off creating a will.
At Modern Will, we provide a 100% free online estate planning platform. We are committed to making estate planning more accessible and to providing the resources people need to make them feel comfortable creating these important documents.
Below is a list of things you should consider as you’re thinking about creating your Last Will & Testament. Having thought about the answers to these questions in advance will make it a lot simpler when the time comes to actually write your will.
Compile a list of your assets
Start with your accounts, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts (such as 401ks and IRAs) and brokerage accounts. Consider any real property you own, such as houses, buildings or vacation properties. You’ll also want to write down any of your tangible possessions that are valuable or important to you, such as antiques or collections.
Make a list of all the people you want to receive your assets in your will. Consider who will get what and connect the people in your beneficiary list with the assets you compiled above.
You don’t have to name a specific beneficiary for all of your assets and possessions. Any of your assets that are not bequeathed to individuals as gifts will go into the residuary (or remainder) of your estate. Consider who you would like to receive the residuary. This can be one person or split between multiple people. If you choose multiple people, you can distribute your residuary equally or choose specific percentages for each.
Another reason for creating a will is to name guardians for any minor children you may have. List your children and who you would like to care for them in the event you are no longer able to. It’s typical to name a primary guardian and at least one backup guardian, in case your primary choice is not able or willing. If your child has two parents, the court will only appoint guardians if both parents have passed away or are no longer able to care for their children.
Do you own any pets you would like to provide for in your will? While most states don’t allow you to leave assets directly to your pets, you can give your pets as a gift to specific individuals and provide those individuals with a cash gift to be used for the care of your animals if you would like. Think about who would make a good guardian for your non-human family members.
Are there any charities or non-profit organizations, such as your college or university, that you want to leave a gift to in your will (known as a bequest)? Consider what organizations are important to you and whether you would like to leave them a gift of cash, a percentage of your residual estate (what is left over after your debts are settled and your specific gifts are distributed), or some other type of asset, such as stocks or real estate. After you create your will, let the organization know that they are included in your estate plan. Many organizations have a ‘Planned Giving’ section on their website where you can find more information.
Who will you trust to ensure your final wishes are carried out? For married couples, this is often your spouse. Otherwise, it may be a parent, child, sibling or close friend. Whoever you choose should be someone you consider to be trustworthy and dependable, since this person has a lot of responsibilities. Your executor will be responsible for filing paperwork with the county, making an accurate list of your assets, paying any debts or taxes that you owe, and distributing assets according to the provisions of your will.
You may have the option to include preferences for your final arrangements, such as final resting place, disposition of your remains if cremated, etc. This information is not required and if it’s not important for you to put it in your will, you can leave it out.
Every state requires that your will be signed by at least two witnesses. In most cases, witnesses must be ‘disinterested’ parties - they cannot be your spouse or a person who is named as a beneficiary in your will. List a few people you could ask to sign your will as a witness, such as neighbors, friends, or co-workers.
Where will you keep it?
It’s important to keep your will in a safe place and to let your executor and/or beneficiaries named in your will know where to find it. Common options include a fireproof safe or filing cabinet. For obvious reasons you want to keep your will safe, but you also want to make sure the people who need it will be able to access it when the time comes.
Last Updated: April 8, 2020