The 10 Most Popular Questions About Writing a Will (We Have Answers!)
If you haven’t already written your will, you probably know it’s time. But when exactly is the right time? And what happens if you die without a will? And how much does it cost to write a will?
We have questions.
Wills can seem complicated, but Louise Procter, a content writer for content for Wyatts Compensation Lawyers, a well-known law firm in the heart of Sydney, Australia, has joined us to demystify everything about writing and maintaining a will.
#1: Why should I write a will?
First things first – what’s the point of writing a will?
The purpose of a will is to plan out what should happen in the event of your death.
Louise explains, “A will should outline your wishes regarding your funeral arrangements, the care of any dependent children, what should happen to your estate and your money, and who should be responsible for carrying out those instructions.”
If none of this is written down in a will, it’s a sure that bet that chaos will ensue.
So, why should you write a will? Make sure that your passing is as stress-free as possible for the ones you love by telling them your final wishes.
#2: What age should you write your will?
Any expert will tell you that you’re basically never too young to write a will.
If you haven’t done it yet, it’s understandable. Writing a will means thinking about death, and you’re not exactly lined up for the grave yet.
But Louise explains, “While you may be young, fit and healthy, it’s wise to remember that life is remarkably fragile, and accidents can and do happen.”
None of us knows what the future holds, but in most states, you must be 18 or older to write a legally valid will. So, if you’re over the age of 18, we’re giving you the eye.
#3: I don’t own much, so why do I need a will?
When most people think about writing a will, they immediately think about who will get their money and their assets.
But why do you need a will if you don’t really own anything and you don’t have much money in savings?
Louise explains, “Writing a will is the only way of making sure that your wishes regarding your funeral, children and estate are carried out after your death.”
So, even if you don’t own much, you want to make sure that what you do own gets passed on to the right people. And you can’t forget about your funeral arrangements and any dependents you might have.
If you don’t have any instructions laid out in a will, you’re likely to cause some family tension. “Stating your intentions in a will helps prevent any tensions between beneficiaries (people who benefit from your will), over how your estate is to be divided.”
For example, maybe you have an old clock from your great-great-grandmother. If you don’t state that you want this to go to your daughter, your family might end up fighting over it. Or someone will swipe it and pretend like it’s lost (true story from one of our staff members!).
The bottom line: simply telling people your wishes or writing them down on sticky notes won’t cut it. You need to state your wishes in a legally binding will.
#4: What makes a will legal?
Unfortunately, what makes a will legally binding differs by state.
In all states, a will must be in writing. However, only 25 states will recognize handwritten wills – these are also referred to as holographic wills.
In nearly all states, your will must be signed and dated.
Here are a few more elements that make a will legal:
- You must be over 18 and of sound mind.
- You must sign and date the will before 2 disinterested adult witnesses.
- The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries under the will, and they must be able to attest to your identity and state of mind.
- You must sign the will free from duress or coercion.
The will must also include the following:
- A statement explaining that this is your last will and testament
- Place/location of signing
- A statement that you signed this before witnesses who also signed it and watched each other sign it in your presence
Not all states require your will to be notarized, but if you do notarize it, the will becomes “self-proving.”
#5: Do you need a lawyer to write a will?
The short answer? No. You do not need a lawyer to write a legally binding will.
You also don’t have to file your will with the state – just be sure to keep it in a safe place, and make sure your loved ones know where to find it.
If your estate is more complex, it’s always a good idea to consult a lawyer. If any part of your will is considered ambiguous, it can be contested. And an invalid or contested will can cause a hailstorm among your loved ones.
#6: What happens if I die without a will?
If you die without a will, you don’t have the opportunity to make those final wishes come true.
Each state has their own intestacy laws – laws that determine what happens if you die without a will.
Louise explains, “In most cases, your estate is distributed at the discretion of a court, usually in accordance with strict legal procedure. The court appoints a trustee to oversee the distribution of your assets. If there are minors (children) involved, the court will be responsible for appointing a guardian for them, too.”
This means that you don’t have any say about what is done with your bank accounts, your properties, and any other assets you own upon your death.
#7: How do I write a will?
Writing a will isn’t hard. It might sound daunting, but it’s actually one of the easiest personal documents to write.
Louise advises that you consider using a template. She says, “If you are not comfortable writing your own will, there are numerous templates available online. Alternatively, you can seek the professional advice of a lawyer.”
One good template is from legaltemplates.net. You can download that Word document here: https://legaltemplates.net/form/last-will-testament/.
#8: How much does it cost to write a will?
You can use free templates that are available online, but if you decide to consult a lawyer, you’ll have the lawyer fees. The cost for a lawyer just depends on where you live and how much that individual lawyer charges.
Also, if you have a more complex estate, the lawyer will charge more.
On average, consulting with a lawyer shouldn’t cost more than a couple hundred bucks.
LegalZoom also offers a last will and testament service, which starts at $69 for the basic service, and it goes up to $149 for the bundled service.
#9: Once I’ve made a will, can I change it?
Life changes – people come in and out of your life, your assets change, and your priorities often change.
Rest assured that your will can be changed or amended at any time.
Louise explains, “In fact, your will should be reviewed periodically, and it must be re-written if your wishes regarding any of the stated information change.”
Louise advises paying special attention to your will at these critical points in your life:
- Marriage, or getting re-married (marriage will abrogate any previous will)
- If you become divorced (divorce does not automatically abrogate a will)
- Acquisition of significant assets or starting up a business
#10: What does an example will look like?
Wills, especially when they’re written by a lawyer or come from a template, are quite boring to read.
They’re written in legal language, and they’re very unambiguous to make sure that your wishes are crystal clear.
You can read a full example of a basic will with explanations and annotations over at FindLaw.
Making sure you have a legally binding will is only one part of your overall life plan.
If you’re nearing retirement or are into your 60s, it’s important to take some time on the following:
- Get introduced to Medicare
- Know your insurance options as well as potential risks
- Make sure your savings are earning you interest
- Make sure none of your assets are at risk
These are just a few of the things our team will help you with when you’re ready to make plans.
Schedule an easy phone call with one of our specialists for a free Medicare planner. You’ll be glad you did.
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