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How to Make a Will

Dena Standley | April 12, 2024

Dena Standley
Legal Expert, Paralegal
Dena Standley, BA

Dena Standley is a seasoned paralegal with more than 20 years of experience in legal research and writing, having received a certification as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal from Southern Technical College.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

But also be prepared and make your will.

Summary: Making a will is the first step in creating an estate plan. A will helps your grieving family know who rightfully benefits from your assets, reduces conflict, and saves time and costs associated with probate. SoloSuit is here to help.

Many Americans do not have a will or have not thought about their real estate and other financial affairs after their demise. According to many, it is superstitious, and they fear tempting the "forces" that affect death. But, superstitious or not, a will is an essential part of preparing for the future.

Your will is a legal document that is part of your estate planning. Creating a will ensures your assets and possessions will be distributed as you wish, reducing the risk of conflict between family members and legal complications.

Without a will, you're considered intestate, meaning the probate court controls how your assets are distributed. But in ten simple steps, SoloSuit breaks down the process of writing a will below.

Process Summary:

  1. Get to know your state’s legal requirements.
  2. List your assets.
  3. Decide on beneficiaries and be realistic.
  4. Choose the right executor for your will.
  5. Make sure your children are taken care of.
  6. Include your digital legacy.
  7. Write a letter that includes additional messages.
  8. Get and verify your witnesses' signatures.
  9. Keep your will up-to-date.
  10. Safeguard your will.

Below, we break down each of these steps to making a will in detail. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Make a will without an attorney.

1. Get to know your state's legal requirements

Your will should be valid throughout the country if it is written according to the state's laws where it is recorded. But this isn't always the case. For example, in Texas, holographic wills signed by the testator (owner of the will) in their handwriting are valid, but not in Florida.

States may also have different property laws, particularly those with "common law" or "community property." It is accepted that a spouse owns their property separately in a common-law state.

But assets acquired during a marriage are considered community assets in states that recognize community property. Depending on the state's property laws, you may have to distribute your assets differently.

2. List your Assets

When you write your will, you need to list all your assets. You should include detailed information about the following in your will:

  • Real properties
  • Intellectual property, royalties, copyrights, and patents
  • Money market accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and bank accounts
  • Pension/ retirement accounts (retirement plans) (stocks, bonds, mutual funds)
  • Policies and annuities for life insurance
  • Automobiles, boats, and planes
  • Items of value (family heirlooms)
  • Crypto assets

You may change your preferred beneficiaries over time and update your will to reflect changing family dynamics. If you left nothing to a specific beneficiary or didn't adequately describe everything in the assets section of your will, you may want to include a residuary clause.

These "remainders" can be left to a beneficiary or your executor. Don't overlook this clause; if this is your first attempt at writing a will, you may not recall everything you own.

3. Decide on beneficiaries and be realistic

To ensure your assets go to the right people after your death, you must be as specific as possible. Your spouse, children, and extended family are all essential to consider.

Moreover, beneficiaries can be individuals or entities you would like to receive your estate. After identifying them, then decide on what each beneficiary receives from you.

4. Choose the right executor for your will

An executor is responsible for carrying out your wishes after you die. Executing a will can be challenging and requires an ongoing time commitment due to the lengthy probate process in case of one. If your executor accepts the role, consider offering them compensation.

Executors can be individuals or institutions such as banks, trusts, or companies. Unless you designate an executor, the court will name one for you. Check your state's regulations to see who you can name as executor.

5. Make sure your children are taken care of

Minor children are taken into custody by the surviving parent. But if the surviving parent lacks capacity or both parents pass away, someone has to be named as a guardian. As a parent of minor children, this is one of the most crucial reasons to ensure you have a valid will.

The responsibilities associated with this position are considerable, so be sure to discuss it with your chosen guardian(s) before entrusting them with your children.

6. Include your digital legacy

It's essential to think about what you want for your social media, the accounts you use, and your websites after you pass away. Don't forget to share relevant login information, such as passwords and security questions, with the appropriate people.

Some sites, such as Facebook, allow you to specify how your page should be handled after you leave. Your executor or other loved ones can take care of your digital legacy according to your wishes if you mention your wishes in your will.

7. Write a letter that includes additional messages

You might feel impersonal when making a will, listing items, and distributing them to your family. But you do not have to limit your intentions to merely legal documents. In addition to the will, you may attach a letter that says something meaningful.

Saying goodbye to loved ones and clarifying your final wishes are two important reasons to do so.

8. Get and verify your witnesses' signatures

You must have witnesses sign the will once you have signed it. Almost all states specify that a will must be signed by two witnesses to be legally binding.

A witness must be at least 18 years old and cannot be a beneficiary of the will. Select witnesses young enough to be around in court if your will is contested.

9. Keep your will up-to-date

Reviewing and updating your will regularly once you have completed it and are satisfied with it is essential. The future may bring changes to your will, so don't be surprised if you want to update it.

Besides, you may live for decades after making your will, so you have plenty of time to deal with significant events such as marriages, divorces, children's births - even family disputes.

10. Safeguard Your Will

After your death, your family should be able to access your last will as soon as possible. There is no requirement in any state to register your completed will, but some counties and states allow you to log information about it or file it with the county probate court.

If you hire an estate attorney to write your will, they will probably offer to store it in their office. However, if you decide to do your own will, someone trustworthy should know where you've kept it.

Ready to make a will?

Most experts recommend preparing a will around the time you get married or buy a home and revisiting it regularly, especially around job changes when adding large new assets, having children, and retiring.

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