If you’re an adult, you need a will. It’s just part of the package of being a grown-up. If you care about your family, you don’t want to leave them to fight over that old Beanie Baby collection and the rest of your 401(k), right? So, if you’ve been putting off making a will because you don’t know how to, keep reading.
So, what’s involved in creating a will? Do you just scribble something down on a sticky note? Can you just write a will and get it notarized? There’s a little more to it than that . . . but it’s pretty straightforward. Especially if you use a simple will template. Most importantly, creating a will won’t break the bank either.
How to Make a Will
1. Decide what to include in your will.
It’s time to think specifically about your belongings, savings and estate. (If you have stuff, you have an estate.) Go ahead and pull together the paperwork for your home and any other real estate you own, along with life insurance policies and bank and retirement accounts.
Save 10% on your will with the RAMSEY10 promo code.
Do you have a car, beloved pet Fido or rare book collection you want to go to a specific person? Include it in your will. This will help your executor when it’s time to distribute your assets (aka your stuff) and save your family from unnecessary stress.
2. Be specific about where all your stuff goes.
This isn’t a time for general estimates. Where do you want your stuff to go and to who? Think about your spouse, your children and your extended family. Drill down and decide who gets (or takes care of) what.
If you’re happy with it all going to your spouse, that’s fine. But a will gives you the chance to decide what (and how much) other loved ones get too.
And remember: If you own a home with your spouse or someone else, the property automatically goes to the other person named in the title. So, a will can’t overrule who gets the property—unless you change the deed too. The same rule applies to the beneficiaries of any life insurance policies and your IRA or company 401(k) accounts. Your will doesn’t override the choices you made when you opened those accounts.
3. Select your beneficiaries.
Next up, you’ll put down the names of the beneficiaries—the people who will get your assets. Like we said, if your spouse is still living, you may just leave everything to them. But if neither of you is around, how would you divide up your assets and estate?
You could leave an equal percentage or set dollar amount to each of your children. You could decide to leave a chunk to charity. And there could even be special items you want to leave to certain people—like that vintage train set your kid always wanted to push around the living room growing up. Now’s the time to record those gifts.
4. Choose an executor for your will.
The executor is the person who reads your will and makes sure your wishes are carried out. They’ll handle all those special giftings (like your pet or the train set) and use the funds in your estate to pay off any debts you have left.
Your executor should be a level-headed, ethical and responsible person you trust—someone who isn’t intimidated by strong-willed family members! You may want to choose one of your adult children, a family friend or an attorney to take on the job. Attorneys are usually paid to do this out of the funds in the estate, and each state has specific laws about how to handle their fee.
5. Name guardians for your children.
If you have children who are minors, you’ll need to name their guardians in your will. These are the folks who will take charge of your most important legacy—your kids—when you’re gone.
Guardians should be people you trust. And before you make this decision you should talk to whoever you’re considering. Some people even set aside money for the guardians in their will to help with the responsibility and expense of taking on another person (or more) in their household.
Pro tip for this step: Don’t forget to give the guardians access and authority to work with any insurance or savings accounts you’ve set up for your kids. This includes stuff like a college fund or an account for their first car. That way you know the money will be used for the things it’s meant for.
Don't Know Where to Start With a Will?
Download our will worksheet to get started.
6. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
This is the important bit! A written will is not valid in most states unless it’s signed and dated by the one who’s writing the will (yep, that’s you) and two witnesses. Surely you have two friends willing to watch you sign a piece of paper.
Even though witnesses can’t be people who could inherit anything from your will, they should be people you know quite well. That’s because after you die, they could be called to appear in court to confirm they saw you sign your will.
One way for your witnesses to avoid a trip to court is by making a self-proving affidavit, which is required by some states. Self-proving what? It’s just a notarized document that confirms two things: Your witnesses saw you sign the will, and you signed it willingly and in your right mind. It acts as their testimony, so if your will ends up in court for any reason, they won’t need to appear.
7. Let everyone know beforehand.
It’s a good idea to alert everyone involved and included in your will ahead of time. For the executor and guardians, get their permission before tagging them with these responsibilities. They need to be capable (and willing) to take them on. (Overseeing an estate is a big job.)
And remove the mystery of what’s in your will by letting your beneficiaries know what’s coming their way before you’re gone. Trust us: Taking away the element of surprise could save some heartache for them later on. It’s peace of mind for everyone involved—especially you.
8. Store your will in a legacy drawer.
We recommend you put together a legacy drawer to store your will and other important documents. This can be a waterproof and fireproof file box or folder that holds the documents your family would need if something happened to you.
But time out here. We live in an increasingly digital world! So why use a physical drawer to store critical documents? Good point! The Ramsey Vault is the digital version of your legacy drawer. It works the same as if you were filling an actual physical drawer with will documents (but with more security).
Regardless of whether your legacy drawer is digital or physical, make sure you include the original version of your will (signed and witnessed), estate plans, insurance policies, bank account details and passwords, tax returns, funeral instructions, and anything else you think your family will need to know.
9. Consider writing a letter with your will.
If you want to pass on words of encouragement and love or even instructions to your beneficiaries, write a letter to go with your will. Your words will help them as they try to honor your wishes—especially if you’ve chosen an executor for their no-nonsense personality.
Hint: Try to be as open and honest as possible now with your kids and loved ones about what you’re leaving them. No one wants to be caught off guard—especially if you’re leaving them a business, your beloved Fluffy, or all the money you have stowed under your mattress.
10. Update your will as needed.
Once you’ve made a will, you can revisit and update it as your life changes—because life happens. You could move to another state, have more children, go through a divorce and remarry, or someone in your family might die. Even if you don’t think your will needs updating, it’s a good idea to read it over every few years anyway—just to refresh your memory.
Why Making a Will Is Important
Creating a will is important because it’s one of the last things you can do for your family after you’re gone. As they’re grieving your loss, they won’t have to guess what you wanted—and they won’t have to deal with the stress (and expense) of fighting in court over your stuff. And if you die without a will? There’s no guarantee your wishes will be known or followed.
Learn How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer
Making a will is easier than you think. And if your estate is modest, you can probably skip the attorney (hooray . . . no hourly rates!) and use a simple will template. Take our quick, easy quiz to find out if a state-specific template will work for you.
There are some situations when you might need an attorney’s help. A few examples:
- You have a large estate and are thinking of putting it in a trust
- You have assets in a different country
- You want to remove someone from your will
In any of those scenarios, you should probably work with an attorney.
But if you’re looking for instructions on how to make a will without a lawyer, we’ve got you covered. You can create a simple will to take care of the basics, like your property, children, investments and personal items—and you can do it all online. Awesome, right? With the required signatures, a will made online is just as legal as one produced by a lawyer.
Making a Will Online
The easiest and most cost-effective way to protect your loved ones when you’re gone is by making a will online. We recommend you start by finding a reputable online company to handle your will and then create one tailored to your needs.
A good online service will also give you the chance to set up your durable powers of attorney, like a financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney, at the same time you write your will—another one of those grown-up responsibilities.
Remember, making a will protects those you love at a time when they’re grieving. Leave a legacy of intentionality and generosity today by creating your online will with RamseyTrusted provider Mama Bear Legal Forms.