DIY Will Basics

Almost half of Americans don’t have a last will and testament. No one likes to think about end-of-life plans, but if you pass away without a will, it means added stress for your loved ones and potential problems with the lengthy and complicated probate process.

You may not think you have enough of an estate to bother creating a will, or you might assume that your assets will automatically go to your spouse or children. Without proper estate planning, however, your loved ones may have to wait an excruciatingly long time before the court releases your assets. 

The truth is that everyone should have a will, regardless of age or income. Fortunately, the process of creating a Last Will and Testament has never been easier. A do-it-yourself will is inexpensive, uncomplicated, and can usually be handled without an estate planning attorney. 

Why You Need a Will

A will is a legal document, one of a handful of estate planning documents that helps determine what happens to your estate after you pass. This can be anything from personal property to less tangible assets. It’s a way to ensure your final wishes are carried out.

Your estate must still go through the probate process, but a legally valid will is one of the most important documents you can have because it helps the procedure go more smoothly. On a personal level, it also makes sure your loved ones, whether they be family members, dependents, or minor children, don’t have to deal with additional stress or time-consuming complications.

Certain types of wills, specifically a living will, are also critical to have on hand because they specify what health care actions you wish to happen in the event you’re no longer able to make those decisions for yourself.

You Can Do It Yourself

You do not need an attorney to create a legally-binding Last Will and Testament. Begin planning your estate with a DIY kit or through a document services website that offers an online will template. Either option allows you to customize each section of your will to suit your own needs and any life changes that may occur.

With either option, you can customize each section of your will to suit your own needs and situation. 

Creating a Will Online

One way to create a simple and legally-binding Last Will and Testament is by using an online document preparation service. The instructions should be easy to follow, and a good site generally provides answers to basic questions. You will mostly be filling in the blanks on the document and selecting the options that fit your needs in order to create your own will. 

Creating your Last Will and Testament online allows you to work through the process from the comfort of your own home, on your own time. It offers many people a safe place to work on their will and focus on the most important things. Without the need for a personal representative, legal or otherwise, many people also report feeling more in control when planning online.

When creating your Last Will and Testament, you will need to decide the following:

  • Your executor
  • Your beneficiaries
  • Your chosen guardian (if you have dependents or minor children)

The executor is responsible for carrying out the instructions you left in your will. They must also work closely with the probate court throughout the process. As this person will have access to sensitive financial information, which may need to include information on bank accounts or retirement accounts, the executor should be someone trustworthy and responsible who will be able to follow your directives. 

Your beneficiaries are the named recipients of your estate. You can choose any person or organization to be one of your beneficiaries. You must also decide what portion of your estate each beneficiary should receive. Your chosen executor will be in charge of distributing your assets as stated in the will.

Select a legal guardian for your minor children. Your chosen guardian does not necessarily have control over your child’s inheritance — this is part of the instructions that you can specify in your will. However, the legal guardian must be able to care for your children until they reach adulthood.

Signatures and Witnesses

Your Last Will & Testament is not considered legally binding without your signature and that of at least two witnesses. The reason witnesses are necessary is so at least two adults of sound mind can attest that you are fully aware of your actions and the document you are signing.

You can also include a Self-Proving Affidavit to attest to the validity of all signatures in the will. This document will save time and stress during the probate process. 

Most states require that your two witnesses not be beneficiaries of your will. The legal term is “disinterested,” which means they do not benefit in any way from your will. One example of a disinterested witness is an attorney. 

A Few Considerations

If you decide to use an online service to make your will, there are a few things to remember:

  1. The document preparation business is not a law firm nor can it act as an estate planning attorney. A website can provide basic information, or even a template, but it cannot offer any legal advice, including on estate taxes.
  2. While an attorney is not necessary to make a will valid and legally binding, you can print your existing will and take it to an attorney for review before signing. 
  3. The DIY option is ideal for most situations, but if you own multiple pieces of real estate or have a large estate, you may want to have an estate planning attorney help you with the details of your will to ensure you don’t miss anything (i.e., tax responsibilities). 
  4. It is your responsibility to make sure that your Last Will and Testament is legally valid. Regardless of where you live in the US, there are some regulations that your will must still adhere to. Some are set down by state laws, so it’s always best to understand your state’s specific requirements.
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