Sunday, January 13, 2008

How to Make a Will


Let's face it, it's never pleasant to think about preparing for your
death. Unfortunately, not enough Americans do--about half die without
a will. Not having a will means the courts distribute your property
according to state laws. Protect your family members and assets with
a will, and eliminate the stress your loved ones may face if they have
to handle your finances without one.


Difficulty: Moderate



Step One

Consult with an estate-planning attorney to see if you need a simple will or a living trust (read 243 Create a Living Trust). You can write your own, but it may be more easily contested if a disgruntled family member wants to fight it.

Step Two

Check out software such as Nolo Press's Willmaker ( In addition to wills, it provides everything necessary to make living trusts, health care directives and financial powers of attorney. (It also tells you when you need professional help.)

Step Three

Organize, organize, organize. Read 295 Make Your Final Arrangements and start working through the details. Outline your objectives, inventory your assets, estimate your outstanding debts, and prepare a list of family members and other beneficiaries. Clearly state everyone's relationship to you in the will. Keep in mind that you can address items not specifically mentioned in the will with a catchall phrase that states, "I give the remainder of my estate to (name of beneficiary)." Otherwise these items will be distributed in accordance to state law.

Step Four

Include the following elements in your will:

Step Five

Name a guardian for your children. A surviving parent usually assumes the role of sole guardian, but if you are a single parent or if your spouse, parents or family members will not be able to care for your children, name a guardian. He or she must be at least 18 years old.

Step Six

Name an executor to oversee the distribution of your assets as stipulated in your will. Choose a family member, a trusted friend or an attorney. A trust company named as executor can keep your will and execute your wishes after your death.

Step Seven

Update your will when necessary. A change in marital status, the birth of a child or moving to a new state should prompt you to review your will. After drawing up any new will, destroy the old one.

Step Eight

Consider a living will. This lets your loved ones know what type of care you wish to receive in the event that you become terminally ill. It kicks in when you can no longer express your wishes yourself. Give your family members a signed copy.

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