How to Write a Will

Writing a will requires careful thought about the people in your life and the assets you need to disperse upon your death. Before you draft a will, you need to have that difficult if-I-were-to-die-tomorrow discussion with key people in your life. For most people, the ultimate goal is to provide a safety net for family and loved ones. This eBook provides comprehensive information on how to write a will.

Writing a will and planning for end of life cuts through a forest of paperwork, court time, and legal hassles. A will ensures your family won’t have to deal with a complicated mess after you’re gone.

This How to Write a Will eBook is a step-by-step guide offering an easy-to-follow checklist and valuable tips. Passare™ offers this helpful tool in collaboration with experts Y Collaborative™ and Attorney-at-law, Robert L. Shepard.

To get the most of out of the book on how to write a will, complete all the exercises at the end of each section. Use the checklist when writing a will and review the example provided at the end of this document. The Glossary of Terms gives you definitions for underlined words.

You will learn:
  1. What may happen if you die without a will
  2. Steps on how to write a will
  3. Who to involve when creating a will
  4. When to amend your will
  5. What documents are included in a will
  6. Where to store a will
  7. What to do next
The eBook includes:
  1. Will writing checklist
  2. Example of a Will
  3. Glossary of Terms
Estimated Time Required:

15 to 30 minutes

 

How to Write a Will

2. Steps to Drafting a Will

When thinking about how to write a will, start by looking at what you own and how you want to disperse these assets in the case of your death.

Step 1: Write an inventory of your assets.

Break your inventory into 3 asset categories:

Physical
  • Physical assets could be large such as your house, land, cars, or small, such as jewelry, books, and computers.
  • You can be specific, such as “Grandmother’s hutch in the dining room” or be more general, such as “all furniture in the house.”
Financial
  • Financial assets include cash, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement funds, etc.
Digital
  • Digital assets include social media login information, online retail accounts, photo sharing accounts, PayPal, blogs and domain names. Keep in mind the less specific you are, the more room for misinterpretation and disagreement when you are gone.
Step 2: Determine who are the beneficiaries and inheritors.
  • Make a list of people to whom you want to give your assets.
  • You may want to consider who will most need money when you pass away, such as dependents, family member with special needs, and requirements of a spouse.
  • Are there any organizations or institutions you want to receive part of your assets?
Step 3: Allocate your assets to the people you have identified.
  • If an asset is to be shared or distributed among 2 or more people, you can assign percentages or the conditions of the distribution. For example, you can state 50% of savings goes to your spouse, and 25% to each of two siblings. You could also use actual dollar amounts.
  • A condition might be if a recipient is still in college at the time of your death, she receives a specific amount to cover tuition.
Step 4: Assign a primary Executor and a secondary Executor if the primary is unable to serve.
  • The Executor is in charge of carrying out your instructions in the will.
  • He or she should know where the will is stored.
Step 5: Assign a guardian for children under the age of 18 years of age.
  • Be clear about guardianship.
  • Make provisions for what you want to happen if the other parent is unable to assume guardianship.
  • Guardianship is especially important if you are divorced and believe the other biological parent is unsuitable.

Helpful Hint: Consider hiring a lawyer specializing in estate plans, trusts and wills. A lawyer can provide professional expertise to navigate complex state laws and estate taxes. If you write your will yourself, you might ask a lawyer to review your draft to identify any oversights that should be corrected.

Common oversights while writing a will include:
  • Lack of capacity: Intoxication or mental incapacity such that the party did not understand the meaning and effect of the words comprised in the will.
  • Undue influence: Improper influence by others that compromises the decisions made by you when drafting a will.
  • Fraud: Un-witnessed or invalid pages are inserted after the will has been created.
  • Executor is not assigned.
  • Will is not dated or signed by at least two witnesses.

Helpful Hint: A will can be amended at anytime as long as you are mentally and physically able to understand
and sign the document.

Take a few minutes now to answer these questions.
  1. Who are the people I’d like to remember in my will?
  2. What are my most important assets and belongings thatI’d like to be sure are distributed to the
    appropriate people?
  3. How will my family and loved ones benefit if I have a will?

 

Myth or Fact?
Only 30% of Americans have wills.
Odds are the other 70% don’t think they need one.
Myth #1:
I don’t own enough to worry about a will.
Fact:
It doesn’t matter how much you make or how much you own to write a will. A will
expresses your wishes for end-of- life affairs.
Myth #2:
Everything I own will go to my spouse so I don’t need a will.
Fact:
Unless stated as a beneficiary or inheritor in your will, your spouse is not always
considered next of kin. The property that you own in your own name is distributed according to your state’s
law of descent and distributions unless otherwise stated in your will.
Myth #3:
It’s too expensive to make a will.
Fact:
Writing a will is free. However, many people choose to seek legal council to assist them.
Legal fees will vary depending on the attorney.
Myth #4:
I’m going to do it, but there’s no hurry. I’m in good health and still
young.
Fact:
Life can end without warning.
Myth #5:
Making a will is tempting fate. It’s better to not think about it.
Fact:
Talking about death doesn’t kill you.

 

How to Write a Will

3. Who to Involve When Writing a Will

Your Will is about you, the people you care about and how you want your assets distributed after your demise. Involve the individuals who you feel add value to the Will writing process. These may include your spouse, partner, parents, or children.

You also need to include people that validate the document, such as:

  • At least two witnesses to sign and date each page of Will
  • Executor
  • Trustee (if applicable)
  • Trusted attorney (if applicable)
  • Notary (if applicable)
Witnesses must meet the following requirements:
  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Does not inherit anything under your Will.
  • Be able to testify that they saw you sign and that you appeared competent.

Beneficiaries don’t need to help in the decision-making process of drafting your Will. The Executor is required to inform all beneficiaries of their involvement when you pass away. The Executor is responsible to ensure the beneficiaries receive the associated assets or amounts expressed in your Will.

Who, or What, Can be Named as a Beneficiary?
  • Individuals
  • Trusts
  • Charities
  • Your estate
  • Organizations
Take a few minutes now to answer these questions.
  1. Who should I involve in making a Will?
  2. What family, friends, or business partners would I like to involve in my decisions?
  3. How will my family and loved ones benefit if I have a Will?

How-to Write a Will

1. What May Happen if You Die Without a will

Establishing a will ensures your assets are preserved and your End of Life decisions are carried out. Without a will, the probate court ignores your End of Life wishes. Death without a will is called dying intestate. If a will is not available, the court, known as probate court, assigns an Executor. The Executor is an estate administrator, and is instructed by the court how to distribute your property.

You must understand that without a will, intestate succession takes away your rights and obstructs the ability of any beneficiaries and the people you love to inherit your assets. Your estate, large or small, pays the Executor every time he or she goes to court on your behalf. This means the value of your estate continues to shrink as long as the executor is getting paid.

State statues:
http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/table_probate

Attorney-at-law Robert L. Shepard, specializing in estate planning and trusts
http://www.shepardestateplanning.com

Take a few minutes now to answer these questions
  1. What is at stake if I don’t make a will?
  2. How do I feel about losing the value of my estate to pay a court-appointed executor?
  3. How will my family and loved ones benefit if I have a will?

 

Should I write a will?
YES! You should write a Will if...
  • You have children under the age of 18.
  • You own property such as a house, land or cars.
  • You have a bank account, or retirement funds with designated beneficiaries.
  • You are separated but not divorced.
  • You are living together as unmarried domestic partners.
  • You are a same sex couple.
  • You want someone other than your spouse and/or children to inherit your possessions.
  • There is any chance family members will disagree with your End of Life decisions.
  • You want to give a portion of your assets to a charity or other institution.
NO! You should not write a Will if...
  • You literally do not own anything.
  • You do not care who gets what when you are gone.
  • You want to pay a court appointed Executor.

How-to write a will

4. When to Amend Your Will

Life happens; changes occur in your location, relationships and financial status. You will most likely need to update your will according to the life changes that affect your beneficiaries, Executor and inheritors.

A simple solution is to amend a will by adding a codicil. A codicil is a document, which modifies a will. A codicil does not replace the will but amends the will by revoking provisions, changing assets, beneficiaries or Executors of the existing will.

Helpful Hint on How to Write a Will: Remember to date and sign the amended will, or codicil, with at least two witnesses.

Take stock of your will regularly by asking yourself the following questions:
  • How has my life circumstances changed since I last wrote my Will?
  • Have my financial and physical assets changed?
  • Has my health or a family member’s health changed?
  • Has an important event happened in my family such as death, marriage, birth, or divorce?
  • Have I acquired any new property or digital assets since I first made my Will?
  • Do I have a pet who will need to be cared for should anything happen?
Take a few minutes now to answer these questions.
  1. Do I plan on making purchases that affect the assets inventory in my Will?
  2. Have I updated my Will to accurately represent the people in my life and the current status of my assets?
  3. What future events do I expect that may affect the contents of my Will?

How-to write a will

5. How to Write a Will with the Necessary Documents

The following documents are recommended to be included your will. They help make sure your directives are clearly understood and help specify your End of Life wishes.

Durable Power of Attorney Allows you to name an agent who can act in your place should you become incapacitated, enabling them to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf.
Advanced Healthcare
Directive or Living Will
Expresses your wishes for End of Life medical care and treatment.
Health Care Proxy Designates a person in charge of carrying out wishes detailed in your Advanced Healthcare Directive.
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) A declaration that specifies to alert personnel that you DO NOT wish to receive CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
Donor Registry Document that expresses your wishes to donate organs.
Supplemental Letter Document expressing additional instructions.
Trust A Trust is a legal document created as specified in your Will.

Refer to our Glossary of Terms for a more detailed explanation of each document.

An Advanced Healthcare Directive, Do Not Resuscitate and Establishing Trusts are more fully explained in our upcoming eBooks.

Helpful Hint: An attorney can help you understand these legal documents and whether they are appropriate to include in your Will.

Take a few minutes now to answer these questions.
  1. Do my loved ones and physicians know my wishes for healthcare decisions should I become incapacitated?
  2. If so, do I have legal documents in place to be sure they are followed?

How-to write a will

6. Where to Store a Will

Knowing how to store a will is just as important as knowing how to write a will. Store your will in a safe and easily accessible place for your Executor to find. This includes a fire proof box, home safe, a safety deposit box in a financial institution, or in the safe keeping of your lawyer. Be sure to inform your family and Executor of the location. Some states require you to file the original Will with the clerk of the court in the county where you live. See the Resources to find out more about your state statutes.

Helpful Hint: If you decide to store your Will with a trusted lawyer, be sure to make a copy for yourself in case he/she is not able to provide the documents.

State statues:
http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/table_probate

For a state-by-state directory of lawyer referral programs, visit The American Bar Association: www.abanet.org

Take a few minutes now to answer these questions.
  1. What are some possible locations where I can safely store my Will?
  2. Who else should know the location of my Will when I have one?

How-to write a will

7. What to Do Next

Now that you have a general understanding of how to write a will, we suggest you get started by following these guidelines.

  • Discuss your decision to make a will with your spouse or closest family and friends. They may have ideas, thoughts, and experiences that will help you with the forthcoming decisions and process.
  • Make an initial draft of who and what you want to include. This working draft will likely go through a number of revisions as you reconsider your wishes and the more you learn about the process. The other toolkits explain more about End of Life planning that may affect what you include in your will.
  • Consider hiring an attorney who specializes in estate planning and wills. A number of trusted resources can be located on the Passare.com ™ website. Our experts can help ensure that your Will is complete, legal, and tailored to your specific needs and wishes.

Helpful Hint: Make sure your family and Executor knows the location of the will and any amendments that you make as your life circumstances change.

Take Action

Planning for the end of your life is one of the best things you can do for your family and loved ones. Taken step-by-step, the process is manageable and doable.

  • Use the Checklist for How to Write a Will to walk you through the process. It is on the following pages.
  • Take a look at the example of the will we have provided. It will give you an idea of how you might want to organize your own will.
  • A Glossary of Terms is available on the following pages as a reference.

Following eBook #1: How to Write a Will, be sure to download eBook #2: How-to choose your Executor. eBook #2 gives a guide to choosing the right Executor

How-to write a will

End of Life Management Toolkit #1:

How to Write a Will: Checklist
Item 1: Assign My Executor
Executor: Primary
Executor: Secondary
Both my primary and secondary Executor knows where my Will is located.
I have informed my Executors of their responsibility and they are willing to assume the role.
Item 2: Name My Beneficiaries and Inheritors
Family
Friends
Trusts
Your estate
Charities
I have informed my beneficiaries of their involvement in my Will.
Item 3: Asset Inventory
Physical Assets House
Land
Cars
Jewelry
Art
Books
Electronics
Furniture
Financial:
Business and
Personal
Cash
Bank accounts
Stocks and bonds
Retirement funds
Credit Card Accounts
Digital:
Business and
Personal
Social media login information
Online retail accounts
Photo sharing accounts
Gaming Accounts
PayPal
Domain names
Blogs
What else do I need to do to complete this requirement?
Item 4: Allocate My Assets.
Asset Recipient Percentage Conditions
       
       
       
       
       
       
Item 5: Assign My Guardian (If Applicable)
Guardian: Primary
Guardian: Secondary
Instructions for Guardian:
Item 6: Provide a Trust (If Applicable)
Trustee: Primary
Trustee: Secondary
I stated clearly in my Will that I have a Trust and gave specific instructions for where to find it.
Item 7: Advanced Healthcare Directive (If Applicable)
Medical Power of Attorney - POA Share my wishes in this area with loved ones and friends so they are aware of my intentions.
Do Not Resuscitate - DNR Share my wishes in this area with loved ones and friends so they are aware of my intentions.
Donor Registry Share my wishes in this area with loved ones and friends so they are aware of my intentions.
I stated clearly in my Will that I have an Advanced Healthcare Directive(AHD) and gave specific instructions for where to find it.
I provided a supplemental letter video, tape or recording for additional thoughts and/or instructions.
My supplemental letter can be found with my Will and accessible by the appropriate individuals.
Item 8: Sign My Will With Two Witnesses.
Witness 1
Witness 2
Both witnesses lie under the following criteria:
  • Is at least 18 years of age.
  • Will not inherit anything under my Will.
  • Is able to testify that they saw you sign and that you appeared competent.
Both my witnesses and I signed and dated every page of Will.

 

How-to write a will

Example
The information contained in this booklet is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney. The information contained in this booklet is subject to change and does not purport to be a complete statement of all relevant issues. In certain jurisdictions this may constitute attorney advertising. Forms vary from state to state. Contact a lawer in your state for advice.
I, ________, of the City of ________, County of ________, and State of ________, declare this to be my Last Will and hereby revoke all of my prior wills and codicils.
  1. I direct that my testamentary estate be disposed of in accordance with the Uniform Statutory Will Act (45-2A-1 NMSA 1978), as in effect on the date of execution of this will.
  2. I appoint ________ as personal representative of my estate under this will. If a trust becomes applicable under the provision of the Act, I appoint ________ as trustee hereunder. If either of them does not serve, or at any time ceases to serve, in either capacity, I appoint ________ to serve in the vacant capacity or capacities. I appoint ________ as guardian and conservator of my minor children. I, ________, the testator, sign my name to this instrument this ______________ day of ________, 20 ____, and being first duly sworn, do hereby declare to the undersigned authority that I sign and execute this instrument as my Last Will and that I (sign it willingly) (willingly direct another to sign for me) (cross out the one of these two alternatives that is inapplicable), that I execute one of these two alternatives that is inapplicable [sic], that I execute it as my free and voluntary act for the purpose therein expressed, and that I am 18 years of age or older, of sound mind, and under no constraint or undue influence.

___________________________ Testator

We, ________ and ________ the witnesses, sign our names to this instrument, being first duly sworn, and do hereby declare to the undersigned authority that the testator signs and executes this instrument as (his) (her) Last Will and that (he) (she) (signs it willingly) (willingly directs another to sign) (her) (him) (cross out the inapplicable word or phrase in each of these instances), and that each of us, in the presence and hearing of the testator, hereby signs this will as witness to the testator’s signing, and that to the best of our knowledge the testator is 18 years of age or older, of sound mind, and under no constraint or undue influence.

___________________________ Witness

___________________________ Witness

State of _____________________

County of ___________________

Subscribed, sworn to and acknowledged before me by ________, the testator, and subscribed and sworn to before me by ________ and ________, witnesses, this ________ day of ________, 20 ____.

(Seal)

__________________________(Signed)

How-to write a will

Glossary
Will: The informal title for a Last Will and Testament; a document in which an individual sets out his or her desires for the transfer of assets upon death.
Beneficiary: An individual or entity receiving some portion of Will or trust assets. A primary beneficiary is entitled to assets before any subsequent, or contingent, beneficiary’s rights.
Bequest: A direction in a Will to transfer an item of personal property to a beneficiary (as compared to a “devise” of real property).
Codicil: A document which by its terms modifies a Last Will and Testament.
Devise: A transfer of real property in a Will (as compared to a “bequest” of personal property).
Disclaimer: The act of a beneficiary (such as a spouse) to decline assets which he or she is entitled to receive under a Will or Trust.
Disinherit: To purposely and with intention exclude an individual from receiving assets as beneficiary under a Will or trust.
Durable Power of Attorney: Allows you to name an agent who can act in your place should you become incapacitated, enabling them to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf.
Executor: The person (or entity) who handles the steps involved in carrying out the instructions in a Will, including the probate process and the distribution of assets passing under a Will.
Heir: An individual entitled to receive a decedent’s assets if the decedent does not specify beneficiaries through other means, such as a Will or trust document.
Intestate: The transfer of assets following default transfer rules when a decedent does not have a Will.
Last Will and Testament: The formal title for a Will; a document in which an individual sets out his or her desires for the transfer of assets upon death.
Notary: A court-supervised process to accomplish the transfer of property from a decedent to the decedent’s beneficiaries as directed by a Will. Information used during this process becomes a matter of public record.
Personal Representative: The person who handles the steps involved in carrying out the instructions in a Will, including the probate process and the distribution of assets passing under a Will. This person may also be referred to as an executor or administrator.
Pourover Will: A Last Will and Testament that directs all of a decedent’s assets into the decedent’s trust (the trust then directs the trustee how to handle those assets).
Probate: A court-supervised process to accomplish the transfer of property from a decedent to the decedent’s beneficiaries as directed by a Will. Information used during this process becomes a matter of public record.
Probate Property: Property that, at death, transfers by a Last Will and Testament to a beneficiary through a probate process.
Testator: Last Will and Testament to a beneficiary through a probate process. The decedent, creator of a Will.

 

Passare

From birth to death, life is a series of passages.  Passare provides an online service that connects people to trusted End of Life Management experts and resources.  With Passare, you can explore, plan and prepare for End of Life Management, simplifying the process while honoring ensuring the specific needs and wishes of you and your family. Passare gives you control over one of life’s most important passages.

 

Y Collaborative

provides End of Life consulting services that help Organizations, Businesses, Families and individuals to prepare and take control for the expected and the unexpected. We are based in Houston, Texas. Whether young, single or newly married, edging into middle age or moving out of it, if you have not thought about and prepared for End of Life issues, we can help. We will speak to your organizations and employees and we have a unique facilitation process to work with small groups, families and individuals. You can reach us at ycollaborative.com.

 

The Robert L. Shepard Professional Law Corporation

Robert L. Shepard’s practice is focused on preventative law, basic estate planning, designed to avoid probate; family limited partnerships designed to reduce estate taxes; S Corporation formation to protect assets, and creating irrevocable trusts to protect inheritors against creditors. He has helped over 1,000 clients protect their hard-earned assets and ensures that these assets get passed on to the next generation. Having been before every Federal District Court in California, the U. S. Tax Court, and many of the state’s Superior Courts, he has never had a single: trust set aside, business agreement held unenforceable, or entity disallowed by the Internal Revenue Service, or any court. He also as a deep interest in transferring his breadth of knowledge in the classroom as a law professor.