How To Make A Will: Understanding The Legal Process

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Do you want to prepare your last will and testament to leave a legacy for your loved ones and family members? Have you been scouring the internet, trying to determine all the legalities involved but are not sure where to get started? Learning how to make a will is not nearly as complicated as you may think, but there are key elements to consider when creating yours. Whether you are just thinking about making a will or are on the fence as to if you even need one at all, our comprehensive guide will give you the tools you need to move in the right direction.

What Is A Will?

Overview

In simplest terms, a will is a legally binding document that details your last requests in the event of your death. The person creating the will is known as the testator. The requirements involved for how to make a will legally binding diverge based on state. It is important to know of some general mandates to make sure you follow each step to the letter.

Key Elements 

There are key elements to know of when learning how to make a will. To begin with, a legally binding will must always be put down in writing. Depending on your state, a handwritten will may suffice. However, only around 25 of the 50 states acknowledge handwritten wills as legally binding, so check your state regulations for further information. If you can use a handwritten or holographic will, it must be composed, signed, and dated by you alone.

A small fraction of states will acknowledge oral wills, known as nuncupative wills, usually in rare instances such as deathbed requests. Several states will also recognize a video recording of your last will and testament. However, it is always a good idea to obtain legal counsel before going this route, as many states do not accept them and they are often best suited to accompany an actual written will.

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When learning how to make a will, you must carefully compose the body of the will to include any beneficiaries you choose. The body must name any people you will leave your possessions and estate to, like your spouse, children, other family members, and friends. In the event that you are purposely leaving someone out of your will, you must spell this out in the document.

If you have minor children, you will want to list the individual you are appointing as their guardian in the will. A valid will must also list each possession and the piece of property you will bequeath, with instructions for how they are to be relayed to the beneficiary. Exceptions to this rule would be an insurance policy or if your estate is under a joint tenancy, in which case your assets automatically go to the living beneficiary or tenant upon your death. Finally, your will needs to name the executor of the document and an alternative choice in the event that the former cannot perform his or her duties.  

Do You Need A Will?

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In a Nutshell

One of the main considerations that arise when considering how to make a will is if you even need a will. No matter how small your assets may be, it is always a good idea to create a legally binding will so your property does not get caught in probate or go through unnecessary channels before reaching your preferred beneficiaries.

It may be difficult to think about and plan for your death. Yet, it is far better to prepare for the unexpected for the sake of your loved ones and to ensure that your property transitions to the individuals of your choosing.

Things to Consider 

If you were to choose not to make a will, your property would automatically pass to the state upon your death, leaving them responsible for determining who they transmit it to. If you are married and have children, in most cases your assets will pass directly to your spouse and kids. If you do not have a spouse or children, the state will usually bequeath those assets to your closest relatives.

In the event that none of these individuals exist as beneficiaries, your assets become the property of the state. If you have children, it is even more imperative to learn how to make a will. If you do not have a will drawn up, upon your death, the courts will decide who your minor children and property will go to if your spouse or the children's other parent is not of sound mind to care for them.  

How To Make A Will And The Legal Process

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Step-by-Step Guide 

The first step in learning how to make a will is to decide how you will create it. You may do it on your own using one of the many software programs available or consult an attorney to draw it up for you. Using a valid software program or legal services are the best routes as drawing it up on your own could result in an invalid document.  


Next, you need to consider who you want to list as the beneficiaries in your will. Your beneficiaries are the individuals who will receive your assets, whether those assets be monetary, physical property, or other types of possessions.


The following important step in how to make a will is to select the individual you want to act as the executor. This is the person who will ensure the requests detailed in your will are followed to the letter. You might select your attorney or bank as the executor which will come at a cost of around 2 to 4 percent of your total assets. If you were to choose one of your close friends or a family member as the executor, they should still receive either hourly compensation or part of your final assets for their services.


If you have minor children, you must select a guardian to take care of them. While you are not legally required to ask the individual before listing him or her as a guardian in your will, it is usually a good idea to do so. Otherwise, select three individuals who you would deem wise, responsible guardians and name them in your preferred order in your will.


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Next, you need to consider who you want to list as the beneficiaries in your will. Your beneficiaries are the individuals who will receive your assets, whether those assets be monetary, physical property, or other types of possessions.


The following important step in how to make a will is to select the individual you want to act as the executor. This is the person who will ensure the requests detailed in your will are followed to the letter. You might select your attorney or bank as the executor which will come at a cost of around 2 to 4 percent of your total assets. If you were to choose one of your close friends or a family member as the executor, they should still receive either hourly compensation or part of your final assets for their services.


If you have minor children, you must select a guardian to take care of them. While you are not legally required to ask the individual before listing him or her as a guardian in your will, it is usually a good idea to do so. Otherwise, select three individuals who you would deem wise, responsible guardians and name them in your preferred order in your will.


Another important step to remember in learning how to make a will is to spell everything out clearly. You do not want your will to be unclear or prone to interpretation. List your beneficiaries and their allotment of your estate concretely so there is no confusion later. It can be difficult to make sure that everyone you choose is receiving a portion you feel is fair and just. The ultimate decision is up to you, but you may consult with your heirs, particularly your spouse or children to see what assets have meaning to them and those which do not.


Sometimes, learning how to make a will that is valid and legally binding may not allow you to relay your final thoughts to your designated beneficiaries to your satisfaction. You may also write a letter as an appendix to the will that can be read to your heirs and explain your wishes in full.


Creating A Valid Will 

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One of the most important aspects of how to make a will that is binding is to have witnesses sign it. Without the signatures of at least two witnesses, your last will and testament will be considered invalid. Much of the time, those witnesses cannot be listed beneficiaries in your will. They must also be no younger than 18 years of age. The witnesses need to watch as you sign your name and date the will, then sign their names afterwards.  

Part of learning how to make a will is to ensure that it is safe and secure until the day it needs to be executed. Once you have completed your will, put it in a secure place known to a trusted few. You want your will to be safe, but you also want it to be easily found by your chosen family members or friends in the event of your passing. You may have several copies of the will, but it is best to keep the original one in a location like a fireproof safe or other secure storage space.

Conclusion

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Learning how to make a will that is legally binding and carries out your wishes to the letter is not inherently complicated. It requires some careful thought, consideration, and time beforehand. Do not create a will without using valid software programs or seeking the advice of an attorney as this could result in an invalid document.

It is important to remember that your will might need to be updated during the passage of the years. If you get married, divorced, have children, or experience any other similar life-changing events, you will need to update your will with the appropriate beneficiaries. Check your will every 2 or 3 years to see if changes need to be made and make sure everything is up to date.

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