May 2022
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A Beginner's Guide to Making a Will
Simple steps for easy estate planning

A will is a document that declares how your estate should be managed and distributed in the event of your death. Without having a will to guide them, your family members will have to spend time and energy divvying up your assets — often leading to additional stress and conflict during an already stressful time of mourning and grief. Here’s how you can get started with making your will.

Where do you get a will?

Many online services claim to be able to help you create a will in just a few minutes. However, everyone’s estate and family situation is unique. In order to account for all situations and create a comprehensive will that’s difficult to contest, consider having your will created by an estate-planning lawyer. Elder law attorney Patrick M. Simasko explains that an attorney will be able to account for the complexity of laws in your state, and they will make sure all forms have been properly signed and filled out. Furthermore, a lawyer’s office is equipped to take care of other processes that turn your will into a legally binding document, such as notarization. You may also need to budget for your will, as it will likely cost over $1,000, depending on the rates that your attorney charges.

Choosing your beneficiaries

Beneficiaries are the people who will receive parts of your estate upon your death. There are several important factors to consider. The Balance contributor Julie Garber explains that if you plan on passing cash or property down to your minor children, you must appoint a conservator to manage the inheritance since children are not legally allowed to own these assets. You should also consider what to do if one of your named beneficiaries precedes you in death. For instance, if you intend on passing your vehicle down to your nephew, consider who the car will go to if your nephew predeceases you. It’s a good idea to have a contingency plan written into the will for all assets, since this will keep confusion and stress to a minimum.

Picking an executor

The executor is the person who will carry out the instructions described in your will. While most people name a spouse or child to be their executor, the executor of your will doesn’t have to be a friend or family member. Brian J. Decker, owner and founder of Decker Retirement Planning, explains that you can also have a CPA or attorney fulfill the role. However, he cautions against naming a corporate trustee to carry out your wishes, as they often charge fees that skim money from your hard-earned estate, leaving less for your beneficiaries to inherit.

Keep your kids in mind

If you have children who are still minors, it’s important to appoint a guardian for them in your will. Consider different scenarios when appointing a guardian. For example, you may take for granted that your spouse will care for the children if something happens to you. However, you need a plan in place if your spouse predeceases you, or if you both die in the same incident. If you have appointed a relative as your children’s legal guardian, consider having a backup plan, just in case that relative precedes you in death. This is particularly important, because Garber warns that if there are no surviving people to serve as your children’s guardian, the court will appoint someone without your approval.

Once your will has been properly signed and notarized, it’s important to keep it in a safe location. For more information on making a will, consult with an estate planning attorney.

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