Writing your own Will is not as simple as filling in a form. It usually involves a glass (or a bottle) of wine and several steps to ensure that your Will accomplishes everything you want.
This checklist will help you ask yourself basic questions before you create your Will and know what to do after you have drafted it. If you do hire an attorney to write your Will, reviewing these steps will help you prepare for your first meeting with your attorney.
Make a List of Assets That You Want To Include in Your Will
Think of everything that you own, including real estate, personal properties, motor vehicles, bank accounts, life insurances and retirement accounts. Once you have the list, decide which items you want to give through your Will and which ones you want to transfer by other methods.
A Will is one of several ways to transfer assets after your death. It is not always the best or cheapest way and depending on the country/jurisdiction you live in, a Will may need to go through the judicial process known as probate. Probate means court fees and can take months or years to complete.
Other methods for transferring property and money after death are trusts, retirement accounts and life insurances. Assets transferred by these methods will not go through probate unless they have an irregularity. For life insurances and retirement accounts, you should make sure you have added in the beneficiaries of your choice.
Collect Certain Documents
Certain documents can help you think about the assets you have and who you want to give them to.
Important documents to collect are:
Bank and financial account numbers
Life insurance policies
Titles to your vehicles
After you collected these documents, you should keep them in a safe place and let trusted family members or friends know where they are. Having them readily available upon your death will make it easier for your property to be passed on to your beneficiaries quickly.
Choose Your Beneficiaries and What You Would Like Them To Receive
A beneficiary is a person or organization who will receive a gift of property through the Will. Property given through a Will is also known as a bequest. The person creating the Will is known as the testator. As the testator, you can use a Will to make bequests to anyone you choose, including charities and schools.
You can choose which items to give to each beneficiary. You may want to give money to a caretaker, real estate to a relative, or sentimental bequests - like artwork or jewelry to a close friend.
To avoid fights between family members, you should clearly list (in names and relation) who will receive family heirlooms and which sentimental items. It is easy to divide money four ways, but it is impossible to divide your grandmother's antique necklace.
You can list these sentimental items in your Will. Some countries/jurisdictions allow a testator to have a separate list of tangible personal property items that they can update without having to draft a new Will. If you choose to have one and your country/jurisdiction allows it, your Will must mention that it has a personal property addendum or memorandum. This personal property list cannot include real estate or intangible items like money or financial accounts.
Choose an Executor (Optional, but Recommended)
An executor is the person who manages the estate and communicates with the court about the estate's administration. The executor has several duties to fulfil, including:
Notifying beneficiaries, creditors and government agencies of the testator's death
Paying debts and taxes out of the testator's estate
Distributing bequests to beneficiaries
Selling the estate's property
You should choose someone who is responsible to be executor and pick a successor executor if your first choice becomes unavailable after your death. Before you name them in your Will, let them know you want them to be your executor and find out if they have any reservations about serving.
If a family member makes poor personal and financial choices, it is unwise to name them as your executor. Being an executor can be time-consuming and difficult. Consider whether your person of choice has the time and patience to manage your estate.
If you have significant assets or want to avoid family conflicts, you can name an attorney, accountant or financial institution as your executor. However, you will want to confirm that they are willing to serve as your executor and what are the fees they charge before adding them into your Will.
Choose a Guardian and Trustee for Your Minor Children (Optional, but Recommended)
If you have minor children, you should decide who will be their caregiver and who will manage their money. The caregiver is known as a guardian. The guardian will have legal custody of your children and will manage your children's healthcare, education, and provide food and housing for them.
When choosing a guardian, you should consider the following:
Will the person you choose be physically able to care for your children?
Do your children have a good relationship with the guardian and the guardian's spouse?
Do you approve of the way the guardian would raise your children?
Will it be too much of a burden on the guardian to raise your children?
Minor children also need someone to manage assets they receive through a Will. This person is often called a trustee. Like an executor, this person should be trustworthy and responsible with money.
The same person can be both guardian and trustee. If you have a sister who is an attorney or accountant, she might be a great choice as trustee of your children's assets. She could be a good choice as guardian too, but you might want to designate someone else as their guardian if she is not good with children.
Execute the Will Properly
For a Will to be legally valid, it must be executed properly. In some countries/jurisdictions, this means that it must be countersigned by the number of witnesses required by law. In most cases, you will need two witnesses to watch you sign the Will and affirm with their signatures that you are the testator who signed the Will. A witness must be an adult and should not be a beneficiary of your Will.
The witnesses do not need to know the contents of the Will. They only need to know that you are declaring that it is your last Will and testament.
Store the Will in a Safe Place
A Will is useless if no one can find it. You must ensure that it is in a safe place but also a place that is easily accessible.
Some law firms store Wills for their clients. You also can store your Will in a desk drawer at home or another secure place and let trusted family members know where to locate it.
Avoid using a place that is difficult to access, such as a safe that only you know the combination to. A better solution is to store your Will online, for instance in liteWill.
Writing your Will is the very first step. Equally important is to store your Will online, to ensure that it will be found in a timely manner. liteWill is the only global platform which offers the solution to store your Will online.
‘A Will that is not online is like a Will that does not exist’
This portion of the website is for information only. The statements and opinions are the expression of their author, not of liteWill, and have not been evaluated for accuracy, completeness or changes in the law. Information contained in this article is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.