67% of Americans have no estate plan, while less than half have written a will.
Why it matters: The number of Americans with a will increases with age — three-quarters over age 65 have written one — yet a will is extremely important for your loved ones. Higher-income Americans are more likely to have written a will, but it’s essential to make sure your assets are distributed in case of tragedy regardless of income level.
A will ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away, and it can also help prevent disputes and confusion among your family members. Yet many people put it off because they don't know where to start or believe it’s complicated.
The good news is that making a will is simple and can be accomplished in just six steps.
Step 1: Decide what you want to include in your will
Before you start drafting your will, decide what you want to include in it. This can include:
- Your assets, such as property, bank accounts, and investments
- Your personal belongings, such as jewelry and family heirlooms
- Any debts or liabilities you may have
- Your wishes for your funeral or memorial service
Step 2: Choose an executor
An executor is the person you choose to carry out your wishes as outlined in your will. They will be responsible for managing your assets and distributing them to your beneficiaries.
It's important to choose someone you trust. They should also be willing to take on this responsibility. Consider a backup executor in case your first choice is unable to fulfill the role.
Step 3: Find a will template or hire a lawyer
The next step is to find a way to document your wishes. You can use a will template, which can be found online or through a legal document service, or you can hire a lawyer to draft your will for you.
If you have a complex estate or unique circumstances, hiring a lawyer may be the best option to ensure that your wishes are properly documented. The expense now is worth it so there’s clarity when it comes time to distribute your assets.
Step 4: Fill out your will template or work with your lawyer
If you've decided to use a will template, fill it out according to your wishes. Make sure to include all the necessary information, such as the names of your beneficiaries and their relationship to you, and sign the document in the presence of witnesses.
If you're working with a lawyer, they will draft the will for you based on your wishes. This is especially important if there are complexities with your estate.
Step 5: Store your will in a safe place
Once your will is complete, it's important to store it in a safe place where it can be easily accessed after you pass away. You can store it in a fireproof safe, though it’s a good idea to keep a copy with your lawyer or in a safe deposit box. You might also choose a secure online storage place, with only your executor in possession of the password.
And, of course, make sure your executor knows where your will is stored and how to access it after you pass away.
Step 6: Review and update your will periodically
It's important to review and update your will periodically to ensure that it still reflects your wishes. You should review your will after any major life events, such as a marriage, divorce, birth of a child, or acquisition of a significant asset.
You can update your will at any time by adding a codicil — a legal document that amends your existing will — or by creating a new will altogether.