Our 9-Step Will Preparation Checklist
Despite what you see on television and movies, everyone needs a will. Unfortunately, a majority of Americans die each year without stating exactly what they want to happen to their children, possessions, and other effects — which then creates trouble and stress for their loved ones. As a company dedicated to helping you proactively plan for the future, The Postage has created a handy checklist to assist you with preparing a will that protects you and everyone else involved in the process.
Once you do create a will, we recommend you speak to both legal and financial professionals to ensure the document is sound, secure, and safe.
Do I Need a Will?
Absolutely. Even if you don’t own castles, cars, and considerable business holdings, you need a responsible and succinct way to tell your friends, family, and other interested parties what you want to happen with what you own.
To take it a step further, you need a traditional will to dictate who you want to take care of your minor children if you pass away before they turn 18. Without one, the court will assign the closest surviving family member to care for them, no matter what your relationship might be with that person. Thus, even if you don’t have any possessions to give away, you need a will to make sure the right person takes care of your children.
What Needs to Be in a Will?
At its most fundamental, your last will and testament is a legally binding document that states who gets your belongings after you die. Thus, regardless of the size of your estate, what you include in your will should encompass the following:
- Your beneficiaries – the people receiving gifts from you
- The terms of distributing those assets – how, when, and why those gifts will be distributed
- Who’s in charge of the distribution – the person or people responsible for ensuring the terms of the will are executed according to your wishes
- Who’s in charge of the other details – the person or people assigned to any other tasks described in your last will and testament, as well as living will and other directives
Everything else revolves around ensuring that those four elements are dealt with efficiently and with as few loopholes as possible. If your will is lacking in clarity and specificity (or if you don’t have a will at all), your estate could be stuck in probate court as lawyers parse what you thought you wanted to do.
How to Prepare Your Will in 9 Simple Steps
The best way to take care of your family before you pass away is to create your last will and testament. For most of us, it takes a mere 9 steps, some of which can be more difficult than others.
- Investigate your information
- Assemble your assets
- Determine your debts
- Bless your beneficiaries
- Elect your executor(s)
- Guarantee your guardian(s)
- Tag your trustee(s)
- Watch your two witnesses
- Weigh out your last wishes
Luckily, if you’re already making other preparations like planning your estate and creating your living will, then you already have much of this information assembled. Let’s walk through each step together.
1. Investigate Your Information
When we say “information,” we’re referring to documents and records such as your:
- Birth certificate
- Social Security card
- Marriage license
- Deeds for property
- Birth certificate(s) and Social Security card(s) for minor child(ren)
- Relevant legal and financial documents for assets
The more you collect, the more the lawyers and accountants helping you can ensure you have the right information included in your will.
2. Assemble Your Assets
We aren’t talking about traditional liquid assets like the money you have in your savings account (though that definitely counts). We’re taking a big picture view of everything you own, no matter how remote:
- Bank accounts
- Property / Real estate
- Ownership stake(s)
- Valuables – jewelry, art, and other items that appreciate in value
- Personal memorabilia
At the risk of repeating ourselves, the more thorough you are now, the clearer you can make the directives in your will.
3. Determine Your Debts
As you might imagine, you also need to account for any money you might owe, especially against the assets listed above. This is an area where the details can get murky and confusing. Not only might you not be able to bequeath something that you owe money on, but your estate might have to sell off other assets to pay your debts.
If that happened, your estate would remain in probate as lawyers and your executor deal with the fallout of your poor planning. An executor is the person or persons responsible for ensuring that the terms of your last will and testament are met according to your specifications. The simpler you make the executor’s job, the more efficient the distribution of your estate.
4. Bless Your Beneficiaries
You should make a concrete list of who will receive what from your estate. More importantly, you must be very clear about the intention of the gift so that the executor(s) and lawyer(s) know exactly how to proceed. Common setups include:
- Monetary gifts to help someone’s finances, both now and in perpetuity
- Property ownership
- Controlling interest in a business or financial arrangement
- A family memento you want to pass onto future generations
You can place additional stipulations upon when, why, and how a beneficiary can obtain their gift, but those must be iron-clad if you want your will to escape probate court in a reasonable amount of time.
5. Elect Your Executor(s)
In many cases, this person will be your personal lawyer, but not everyone has one of those. This, the executor can also be a close friend or family member working with a contracted lawyer to guarantee your wishes are fulfilled. Thus, you should pick someone (or a couple of people) who you trust implicitly but won’t necessarily be swayed by the circumstances.
6. Guarantee Your Guardian(s)
While you need to select your personal guardians for your living will in case you become incapacitated, you also need to choose the person or people who will attend to your minor child(ren) if you pass away before they turn 18.
This guardian does not have to be your executor(s) or your trustee(s). Our logic is that not everyone is great with money, the law, and children. In fact, it’s probably better if you do spread around the responsibilities so one person doesn’t have to do everything for your estate.
7. Tag Your Trustee(s)
Depending upon the nature of how you spread around your estate, you might need to assign trustees to watch over certain assets until your beneficiaries either come of age or fulfill the requirements you created in your will. These trustees will attend to the terms of the arrangement — typically financial in nature — to ensure that your estate is intact and in good health when your beneficiary is ready to take control.
8. Watch Your Two Witnesses
This one is a bit trickier. Not only do you need to find two people you absolutely trust to watch you sign your will and then sign it themselves, but those people cannot be beneficiaries in your will. In fact, many experts recommend that your executor, guardians, trustees, and witnesses all be completely different people. The more separation you have between the people involved in your last will and testament, the easier it should be approved and set into motion.
9. Weigh Out Your Last Wishes
While your living will is a separate document from your last will and testament, it still includes information that applies to situations after you pass away. Thus, you should assign someone besides your executor(s) to handle those details, especially the following:
- What to do with your body
- The details of your funeral
- Sharing your ethical will
- Distributing any personal mementos that don’t fall within the scope of the regular will
Much like your will, you should ensure that your last wishes are in a safe place where they can be located and carried out.
The Postage Helps with Essential Will Preparation
Every time a celebrity dies without any sort of last will and testament, it becomes news. We are collectively shocked that someone famous — with legal teams, management, and other sorts of business people around them — hasn’t made the necessary preparations for the end of their life. But instead of thinking, “This could happen to us,” many of us think, “That wouldn’t happen to me if I were wealthy.”
But statistics show this isn’t the case.
At The Postage, we hope to change those numbers and get people ready for the future. We help with your will preparation needs by giving you a secure and easy-to-use online platform where you can organize your documents and assign delegates to key information.
Everyone should make proactive preparations for the end of life, including estate plans, living wills, last will and testament, and more. The more you can complete before you pass away, the less stress your loved ones will feel. More importantly, they will have more time to grieve your loss in their lives instead of taking care of your paperwork.