The process of writing a last will is a daunting and uncomfortable task for most people. Few enjoy the idea of confronting their mortality or dealing with lawyers, so they just put off the entire project. Nevertheless, if you have important people in your life you wish to take care of or provide for in some fashion after your death, a will is the best way to ensure that happens. Of course, you can always see an estate attorney that can guide you through the process, but that’s no longer a necessity. With the rise of technology and, namely, the internet, it’s easier than ever to go online, print out a form, and write your own will yourself, so sit down, grab a pen and take note of these ten easy steps to write a will.
Step #1: Document All Your Assets
While retirement accounts, bank accounts, and taxable investment accounts can speak for themselves with listed beneficiaries or transfer on death registrations, many other assets can’t, and there’s a tendency to overlook them when you’re engaging in estate planning on your own. Do you know that random painting from Aunt Sally hanging on your study wall or the vast collection of architectural books you have in your library? Those are the types of assets you’d want to list in your will, so spend some time cataloging anything and everything that might be of value, monetary or not, and document it in writing.
Step #2: Determine Who Gets What
After you document all your assets, property, and possessions, you’ll want to create a list of all the essential people in your life and then determine who will get what after you’re gone. It’s common to have disputes amongst heirs over what they’ve been entitled to in a will, so make sure you take the time to mull over how you want your assets divided so you can do so in a way that will ideally minimize discord.
Step #3: Gather All Your Documents
All your documents need to be in one place, so make copies of them, and make sure you have everything in labeled envelopes or a secure cloud storage folder for easy reference. Specific documents you should gather include copies of your bank account statements, tax returns, retirement accounts, individual stocks or bonds, and any other financial or asset-related documents. Whomever you appoint as the executor of your estate (or your living spouse) will be responsible for filing your final state and federal income tax returns for the year of your death. They’ll also be responsible for accounting for all your assets, so if you have everything documented and all in one accessible location, you’ll make their job much more manageable.
Step #4: Draft Your Last Will and Testament
There are tons of these easy to follow forms online, and they all look the same. Find a good template you can use for reference and print it out to start drafting your own. If you don’t want to type up your will yourself and are willing to cough up a little bit of money (~$75), you can use a service like LegalZoom that will create one for you with minimal effort on your part.
Step #5: Pick an Executor
After you’ve drafted your will, you need to pick an executor. The executor is the person in charge of ensuring the distribution of your assets as stated in your will. The executor of your estate may also have to apply for an appropriate legal authority by going through a process called probate before they can deal with your estate. It’s imperative you fully trust the person you list as your executor and ensure they’re comfortable assuming this responsibility before listing them in your will.
Step #6: File The Paperwork With Your Estate Attorney
While not necessary, we highly recommend you have your will and all its supplemental documents reviewed and filed by an estate attorney to ensure accuracy and completion. It would be best if you also got your will notarized to make it official. Once presented for probate after your death, the will must be ‘proved,’ meaning a witness to the will gives testimony to the appropriate state government official that he/she witnessed the signing of the will. Looking for witnesses and getting them to the Register of Will’s office can be complicated and burdensome to those involved, so notarizing your will avoids these issues.
Step #7: Inform Your Heirs
You don’t need to keep the decisions made in your will a secret from your heirs. Informing them before you pass away can make the distribution of your assets go much smoother and provide an opportunity to hash out any potential disputes ahead of time. You want to avoid any unnecessary surprises. If you’re going to give your oldest son your house, for example, let them know. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to plan for the financial responsibilities that come with that gift.
Step #8: Place Everything in a Secure Location
All your estate-related documents need to be in a place that is safe and secure, but still accessible. In today’s digital age, your financial planner is likely to use a financial planning software that has a secure vault area in your client portal to store all your relevant financial statements and estate documents. If you don’t have access to something like this, there are plenty of other secure, encrypted cloud storage vaults for storing copies. Find one that works for you and offers a high degree of protection so it can’t be compromised.
Step #9: Leave Exact Instructions On How To Access These Documents
The last thing you want when you die is to have your heirs scrambling around trying to figure out how to access your various estate documents and sort through all your financial documents while also dealing with the grief from your death. Wherever you end up putting your records, you’ll want to leave exact instructions for your heirs on how to access them. That way, they can quickly and efficiently handle any of your estate matters and get on with processing their grief.
Step #10: Sit Back and Be Proud of Your Accomplishment
You did it! That wasn’t so hard after all, was it? Now that you’ve taken the proper steps and followed through with creating your last will, you should be proud of the fact that not only are you leaving your heirs with less of a hassle upon your passing, but you are making sure your loved ones end up with precisely what you wish for them to have.
If you’re looking for more assistance on estate matters or financial planning in general, schedule a call with us today. We bring personalized, knowledgeable, transparent, and cutting-edge advice to the table. Our process involves building a deep relationship with you and focusing on meaningful outcomes through effective planning. This is Life Planning Simplified®.
Forefront Wealth Partners is an independent financial advisory firm that provides creative problem solving to our clients. In a world where change is accelerating and the future uncertain, we provide simplicity and confidence concerning financial, tax, and legal strategies. Our process involves a deep relationship, focusing on meaningful outcomes and dynamic planning.
The information given herein is taken from sources that IFP Advisors, LLC, dba Independent Financial Partners (IFP), IFP Securities LLC, dba Independent Financial Partners (IFP), and its advisors believe to be reliable, but it is not guaranteed by us as to accuracy or completeness. This is for informational purposes only and in no event should be construed as an offer to sell or solicitation of an offer to buy any securities or products. Please consult your tax and/or legal advisor before implementing any tax and/or legal related strategies mentioned in this publication as IFP does not provide tax and/or legal advice. Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and do not take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situation, or needs of individual investors. This report may not be reproduced, distributed, or published by any person for any purpose without IFP’s express prior written consent.
Investment advice offered through IFP Advisors, LLC, dba Independent Financial Partners (IFP), a Registered Investment Adviser. IFP and Forefront Wealth Partners are separate entities.