When you start to write a will, there are a lot of important decisions to make. In fact, thinking about what to write in your will is generally harder than constructing the actual document. You want to make careful and deliberate decisions with respect to your children, business, and assets. Remember: if it seems hard now, it’s worth it for the family you’ll leave behind. These are not decisions you want left to the state.

Get Started Start your Last Will & Testament Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

If you’re ready to get started with your will, our legal will may be enough to meet your needs. If you are remarried, or want to give property to your grandchildren, for example, consider these other types of wills.

Although we can’t make the hard decisions for you, we’re here to help make the process a little easier. Let’s walk through what to think about before you write your will.

Appointing a guardian for your minor children

When one parent dies, the other parent generally gets custody of minor children. But if one parent is unfit, or both parents die, your family and the court will look to your will when deciding who becomes the guardian of your children. Without your wishes in writing, the state will make a decision that’s out of your control.

To keep this from happening, it’s a good idea to name your first and second choice for a guardian. Be sure to explain the following:

  • Why you believe this adult will provide stable, continuous care
  • The relationship between your child and the adult
  • The adult(’s) moral fitness to take care of your children
Discuss your decision with potential guardians before naming them in your will.  And be careful about appointing co-guardians. These work best when you choose a stable couple, but you can’t predict what will happen in the future.

Choosing the beneficiaries of your will

The most common types of beneficiaries are familiar faces: your spouse, children, extended family or favorite charities. If you’re married, generally your assets will go to your spouse when you die.

Still, it’s important to plan for those unexpected, “what if” scenarios. You could die at the same time. Or you could be remarried. You may want assets from a previous marriage to go to your children, not your new spouse. Put these items in writing now so your wishes will be known when you’re gone.

Remember, always be clear on what property you own outright, and what property you share with a spouse or business partner. You can only give away your portion of what you own.

Deciding on a personal representative to execute your wishes

If you’re not sure how to appoint a will executor, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you should trust the judgment of the executor, also known as your “personal representative.”

Family members may save money when you appoint them as executors. But asking children or relatives to divvy up your assets could add stress to an already painful time. That’s why legal best practices recommend some people to exclude as will executors. But each situation is different, so do what’s right for you.

When deciding on an administrator, know that administering an estate can be a complex undertaking. It involves notifying government agencies of a person’s death, locating beneficiaries, handling the probate court process, and more. You’ll want the executor(s) of your will to be trustworthy and organized.

Organizing records for your will executor can make things easier. Print out this executor checklist to provide an overview of the process. Make sure your personal representative understands the responsibility before agreeing to it. You’ll also want to share the location of important documents. This includes appraisals, warranties, and passwords to bank, email, and other digital accounts.

Your will should also include:

  • A personal property inventory with descriptions and beneficiary names
  • Instructions for handling your digital legacy
  • Directions for maintenance of your property
  • How to and whom should care for your pets

A few final considerations

First, you must be of “sound mind” before you write a will. This means that you understand the following:

  • What a will is
  • Who your beneficiaries are and their relationship to you
  • What type and how much property you own
  • How to distribute your property to beneficiaries
Second, avoid including certain assets in your will.  You usually appoint beneficiaries when you set up annuities, life insurance, and retirement policies, so including these assets in your will is redundant and unnecessary.
Our step-by-step process will take you through all of the things you need to consider when writing your will. Start writing your will or learn more at our Estate Planning Center.

Get Started Start your Last Will & Testament Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get Started Start your Last Will & Testament Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.