Making a will is a lot easier than you probably think. But like anything, you have to start with the basics. These are the documents you need to get started creating your will; the things you absolutely must account for; and a few things you’ll want to consider.
To show you how easy it is, we’re going to walk you through the basics you need to create a will in a read that takes less than 4 minutes. We’ll also point you to a resource that allows you to quickly and easily create a will that’s legal in all 50 states, for free, from the comfort of your home. When we’re done, you’ll have no excuse for not getting started on your estate plan today. Ready?
The Three Lists
First, make a list of your assets.
That includes real estate; vehicles; life insurance policies; retirement plans like pensions, 401(k)s, and IRAs; checking and savings accounts; cryptocurrency; investment accounts; and valuable personal property — everything from your comics collection to grandma’s treasured china. Don’t forget your pets—who’s going to take care of Fifi and Fido when you’re gone?
Next, create a second list of important documents: insurance policies, divorce records, stocks, birth or adoption records, titles, and deeds. Be sure to note where to find them!
Now make a third list, with all your digital information: credit card accounts, bank accounts, email accounts, blogs, and social media accounts. Don’t forget internet and cable service providers, photo-storage sites, cell-phone providers, computer passwords, college savings accounts, and mortgage providers. Include associated usernames, passwords, and PINs.
Seal the list with your passwords in an envelope and keep it in a secure place, such as a safe or safe-deposit box. You’ll need to ensure your spouse, lawyer or executor have access to it.
Who Gets What?
Now decide which items and assets will be included in your will, and which items or assets should (or must) be left through other means outside the will.
Maybe you have an idea of who’s going to get Grandma’s china. But what about everything else? Think about who you want to inherit what. You’ll also need to choose alternates, in case your choices do not survive you. Write this information down—you’ll need it later.
Think also about your favorite causes. There are so many ways you can help a charity with a legacy gift! You could leave a nonprofit the balance of an insurance policy; make a gift of appreciated assets; leave cash through a bequest; give real estate; or gift a classic car. And oftentimes, there are smart ways to reduce the tax burden on your estate and heirs, just through simple financial planning.
For instance, you might want to be tax-savvy by leaving an IRA to your favorite nonprofit, instead of to a child. The nonprofit, being tax-exempt, will receive the entire gift. But if you’d left that IRA to a child, they’d lose a substantial portion of it. That’s because income tax must be paid on retirement plan distributions received by an individual—even when it’s part of an inheritance.
Three Important Selections
Next, if you have minor children, choose a guardian in case their other parent cannot raise them. You’ll also need to select a custodian—someone to manage your minor children’s property and assets until they come of age. This is a conversation to have with your lawyer.
Finally, choose an executor — the person who will carry out the terms of the will. It must be someone you trust — and someone willing to do the job. Ask first — don’t surprise them after you’re gone. You’ll also need to choose an alternate in case your first choice cannot serve when the time comes.
And now you’re ready to contact an estate attorney, or use our free, secure, online will-maker, LegacyPlanner™.
See? We told you it was easy! While some estates are more complicated than others, that’s basically all there is to it.
No more excuses. Make your will today!
Did you know over 68 percent of Americans don’t have a will? Take the opportunity to educate your friends about the importance of creating an estate plan that will protect their families and secure their own legacy. If you’re a nonprofit, you’ll create a larger impact by subscribing to LegacyPlanner™, our online will planning service that makes it easy for your supporters to plan their will for free and to remember you with a bequest. [If it is not in your budget, get the free version here.] This will further open up conversations on the importance of planned giving.