Writing Your Last Will & Testament
Getting together your last will & testament? Discover the core tenants you need to know as you write your will, including the merits of online wills and what can happen should you choose not to make a will at all.
Regardless of your income or family/relationship status, you need a will. Almost everyone does. It makes everything so much easier on your family and loved ones after you pass away, and making a will is a lot easier than you may imagine.
What is a last will and testament?
A will is a legal document you leave behind in the event of your death. It tells the court where your money should be allocated, and dictates intended familial structures should you have dependents. A will is one of the most important parts of the estate planning process.
After you pass away, your money isn’t just automatically distributed. It has to go through the probate process with the courts. This process can be lengthy. Waiting for months upon months to access the funds in your estate may prove harmful to your family, especially if you were a primary breadwinner and you passed away suddenly.
That’s why having a trust fund is such a good idea. Assets held in your trust will not be subject to probate. And assuming you pass away unexpectedly, you can make a pour-over will which will cover any assets you weren’t able to get into the trust prior to your death.
What if I don’t make a will?
Think you can skip the process of making a will? Then when you die, your property will be divided by the laws of your state. In the probate process, this is called intestate. It does not make the probate process go faster, and means that you will have no say in who gets what after you pass away.
What should I include when I make a will?
Every will has a few essential elements. Let’s review.
Your will outlines who will inherit your assets.
Assets like investment accounts or real estate will be assigned heirs in your will. This is who you would like to receive the property or money after your passing. The items covered in your will don’t have to be big ticket items; you can leave a childhood trinket to your sister, your grandmother’s necklace to your daughter, mom’s old box of photographs to your niece, etc.
How and when will they inherit those assets?
Your will also outlines when your heirs will inherit those items. For example, maybe you want to leave money to your son, but you know he’s not going to be able to handle it straight out of high school. He’d blow the money and have nothing left to invest in his future.
You can stipulate that these assets will only be distributed after he finishes college. Or that they are only to be applied to tuition. Or they are to be released as an annual allowance once per year.
You can do all this within a trust, too, but it’s a good idea to include it in your will either way. If you don’t have a trust, all of your assets will have to go through probate and your last will and testament will guide that process. If you do have a trust, having these specifications in your will is important in case you have any assets which you did not transfer into the trust before you passed away.
Who will take care of my children?
This is the most important part of your will, even taking financial matters under consideration. Appointing the guardian of your minor children in your absence has potential ramifications both positive and negative that no amount of money could buy or solve.
You probably have a couple top contenders in mind, though. Sit down — with your partner if you are in a relationship — open up the Tomorrow app, and send a request to the guardian right within the app. If they agree to the arrangement right away, you can write your will in less than ten minutes.
It is important to note that you don’t necessarily have to leave the guardian complete stewardship of your children’s money. Maybe you would like to provide support for them on a monthly basis, but as much as you love the guardian, you know they’d have a hard time managing a lump sum of cash.
In these instances you can set things up so that they will receive a monthly payment; this is likely best facilitated by a trust, though including the provisions in a pour over will is a good idea for any extraneous assets.
Your last will and testament must have an executor.
The executor is a person, of sound mind, who is responsible for making sure that everything you want to happen actually happens. Their responsibilities can include but are not limited to:
- Admitting your will to probate court.
- Locating your assets.
- Paying any bills or debt you may owe out of your estate.
- Finding your beneficiaries.
- Managing the assets (like personal property and financial accounts) in your estate until they are properly distributed.
- Distributing your assets once the beneficiaries are found.
- Filing your tax return.
Appoint your executor carefully. You must trust them implicitly as they will be managing your money in your absence. You don’t want it to be managed poorly before it finds its ways to your beneficiaries. Here's more information about how to choose an executor.
Should I write my own will?
Unless you work at a law firm, it may not be wise to sit down and pen your own will independently. However, if you cannot afford a lawyer and your situation is not overly complex, you may want to look at online wills. Here at Tomorrow, we have teamed up with lawyers the nation over to help you create a legal last will & testament specific to state law. It’s 100% free to make your will in this way, and the process is fast and easy.
If you do have a more complicated situation, it’s worth sitting down with an estate planning lawyer. The only thing worse than passing away before your time would be passing away before your time and not having the proper paperwork in place to make sure your family is taken care of.
Why People Don't Create a Will
Have you ever paid for a gym membership you didn’t use, or felt guilty when the dentist asked how often you floss? Do you eyeball that nice healthy salad on the restaurant menu, but end up getting the burger and fries instead? You know what you should do, but for one reason or another you put it off.
Maybe you’re too tired, too busy. Maybe it’s just too difficult. Well, you’re not alone. Check out these statistics:
- 49% of Americans don’t exercise regularly
- 70% of Americans don’t floss daily
- 64% of Americans don’t have a will
So, what holds people back from completing a will? Here are five reasons:
1. They Believe They Personally Don’t Need a Will
“I don’t have any assets, I’m single, so why do I need a will?” or “I’m married and have a kid, but everything will just go to my spouse when I die so it’s not a big deal.” Sound familiar?
There are a lot of people who think that having a will isn’t a necessity. A will allows you to do many things, but one of the most important is the ability to set in place wishes and instructions to ease the burden on others after your passing. You may be single with no assets, but your funeral will still cost money, and you may have an opinion about your obituary, headstone, or funeral services. You can use a will in conjunction with life insurance and a trust fund to make sure that your family doesn’t bear the financial burden of your passing, and to make sure your burial and funeral are handled according to your wishes. Young, old, single, married, kids or no kids, if you want to minimize the additional stress your passing places on your family, create a will!
2. They Don’t Want to Talk About Intimate Details with Someone
Another major hurdle for those who are considering setting up a will is that of having to discuss intimate life details with someone. This is especially true for those who don’t have an attorney and thus believe they’ll need to outline their lives to a stranger in order to complete the process of setting up a will. It’s an understandable concern, but one not typically based in reality. Today, there are online services that allow you to create a will without even having to leave the confines of your home (👋, we're Tomorrow! Nice to meet you!) For some (especially those with significant assets or complex estates), working with a professional may still be the best solution to ensure that nothing important is overlooked.
3. They Don’t Feel Ready
Let’s face it—no one wants to think about death when they’re perfectly healthy. Many people feel that setting in motion the process of writing a will means death isn’t far off, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. A will is not an end all, be all statement that you’ll never be able to change down the road. Conversely, it is a living document that can shift as your life shifts, often over a period of many years or decades. If it seems like now simply isn’t the right time to consider making big decisions such as writing a will, remember that nothing is set in stone—you’re just kicking off the beginning of a very important life requirement.
4. They Haven’t Considered the Consequences of Not Writing a Will
It’s easy to go through life focusing on the here and now, which is also an important part of living happily and fully. Still, this overlooks just how important it is to have a will in place before death occurs. The consequences of not having a will can be quite high, especially if you have a large or complex family situation. When a person dies without a will, their estate will effectively fall into the hands of the probate court, which will dole the money out as it sees fit. This is reason enough to start thinking about writing a will, and one that unfortunately affects many families annually.
5. They Believe They Don’t Have Enough Money to Write a Will
It would make sense to think that only the wealthy require wills, but this is not true, and it’s something that leads many people to believe that wills aren’t for them. Even if you don’t have a large amount of money in the bank, you most likely do have a number of possessions and other assets that you’ll want to go to specific people, whether they be friends, family members or even institutions. This is effectively your estate, and ignoring the fact that it exists means you won’t have any control over where all of these items end up after death.
How to Overcome Your Blockers
1) Make it a personal or family priority to establish a will. Until you make it a mental priority, it won’t get done. So, make concrete plans and outline a course of action. Set a goal. Set a due date. Tell your friends and ask them to hold you accountable.2) Schedule time to discuss trusts and guardians with your spouse or partner. If you’re both super busy, put it on the calendar to block out some time. Decide on the basics of what you want to do, why it’s important, and assign tasks to each other. Then schedule a follow-up conversation to review.If you have children, involve them in the conversation and ask them about their ideas and priorities.3) Ask a friend or family member what they have done. If you’re unsure of where to start or want some additional ideas, find someone you know well who has already done it. Ask them questions, and consider using some of their feedback to help create your own family plan.
Are there situations where I don't need a will?
The vast majority of individuals will benefit from writing a will, but what if you don’t actually need one? It certainly isn’t the norm, but there are circumstances in which having a will is far less of a necessity than it is for others. Understanding whether or not you fall into this category can be very beneficial, even if there’s a fair amount of gray area to consider.
Here are a few scenarios in which a will might not do you any favors.
- You’re Under 18 Years of Age
The clearest, most obvious way to determine whether or not you need a will may come down to your age. In most states, people need to be at least 18 years of age in order to legally complete a will. Regardless of this law, the vast majority of those under the age of 18 don’t have any assets to leave behind in the case of an early passing—financial or otherwise. While it’s extremely wise to consider writing a will early on in life, those who are under 18 can file the task away as a future endeavor.
2. You’re Single With No Children, Assets or Debt
Once one becomes of legal age to write a will, things start to get a bit tricky. The fact is, just about everyone who is over 18 years of age should have a will in place as early in life as possible. This becomes especially important for those who have significant assets to deal with in the case of their passing, however. On the other end of the spectrum, those with children, existing debt or both also owe it to themselves to create a will that will address these circumstances should unexpected events occur.
But what about someone who is single, has no children, is debt-free and has little in the way of assets to speak of? While they should also technically have a will written for themselves, the fact that there is little to give or take in the case of their passing makes the whole process seem slightly unnecessary. Still, circumstances can always change, which is why this is not a fact of life for most people.
Though you may not have assets or debts to handle, you might still want a say in the disposition of your remains. We know, not a cheery subject, but there are actually some really cool options available these days, so it’s worth considering.
3. You Have a Mental Disability
In order to create a will, the law requires what is known as Testamentary Capacity. Basically, you must be of sound mind and mental judgment or the will you created could be contested and potentially declared invalid. If you have a mental illness that would prevent you from executing a valid will (something you would need to discuss with a psychologist and an attorney), that definitely limits your options. While someone with a mental disability may still need a will, it would need to be done in conjunction with a person of sound mind and judgment who has been granted power of attorney for the disabled individual.
While there could certainly be other scenarios, these 3 are the ones most likely to arise in which you don’t strictly have to have a will. Bottom line: if you have a family, have debts and/or anything you want to leave to someone, or want a say in how you’re buried/cremated, then you need a will.