Skip to content

Estate Planning

How to Set Up a Will

9 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

Creating a will is not exactly at the top of most people’s to-do lists. While it’s not the most desirable topic, it’s necessary to face reality. You will eventually pass away. What happens to your assets at that time is up to you. Once realized, this leads many to think about how to set up a will. 

Everyone’s situation is different. However, the general process of creating a will includes:

  1. Knowing the type of will you want
  2. Choosing the assets to include in your will 
  3. Deciding who your beneficiaries will be 
  4. Picking an executor
  5. Choosing a guardian for children under 18
  6. Making your intentions clear
  7. Creating an official will and signing it with witnesses

Depending on your finances, age, and general needs, creating a will can become a complex process. We can connect you with a local, unbundled estate planning lawyer who can help you create a strong will that considers what’s best for you and your beneficiaries. 

Learn more about how to set up a will below. 

What is a Will?

A will is a document (or collection of documents) that outlines your wishes for the distribution of your property as well as guardianship of minor children in the event of your death. If you simply tell a friend or family member about your wishes but do not create a will, your wishes may not be carried out. 

Additionally, your heirs may endure many hardships sorting out your last wishes without having a will to give them direction. It can also result in additional fees, higher estate taxes, and more time spent. 

A will is only as strong as the language in the documents. This is why it is typically recommended that you work with an estate planning lawyer to ensure your will is as ironclad as possible. 

What Do I Need to Think About Before Making a Will?

A will can not only give you peace of mind, but it also eases the stress and worry of your children, family, loved ones, and other heirs. Before making a will, it is important to think about what’s best for you as well as your beneficiaries. A few important factors to consider include:

  • Know your assets 
  • Think about all factors involved in distributing your property 
  • Carefully consider who you would like the executor(s) to be
  • Consider any foreign properties and how they can lawfully be distributed
  • Make plans for your family businesses
  • Think about and handle any potential claims against your estate
  • Consider taxes, fees, and potential long term care fees
  • Identify all affairs that need to be “put in order” in the event of your death

Identifying your needs and the needs of your heirs can sometimes be a complicated process that involves many disciplines such as tax planning, financial planning, business law, and estate planning. Depending on the type of assets you have, it is recommended that you have in-depth discussions with your financial and legal teams before writing a will. 

Steps to Set Up a Will

As you can see, setting up a will is not the most straightforward task. There are many considerations, parts, documents, and laws that dictate how your will can best help you and your beneficiaries. While it is recommended that you work with an estate planning attorney to ensure a strong will, it is still possible to create one on your own. 

Listed below are the steps to set up a will. 

1. Know The Type of Will You Want

The term “will” is typically used in a general fashion. However, there are many types of wills. Choosing the type that fits your situation best is key to developing a will that accomplishes your desires. A few types of wills commonly used include:

  • Simple or Statutory Will
  • Pour-Over Will
  • Conditional or Contingent Will
  • Mutual Will
  • Living Will 

It’s important to note, a “living will” has nothing to do with your assets after death. On the contrary, it addresses the type of medical treatment you would like to receive if you are incapacitated and/or cannot communicate your wishes. An example of this is whether or not you prefer to be resuscitated if you stop breathing. 

2. Choose the Assets To Include in Your Will

After you have decided on the type of will that you prefer, the next major consideration is the type of assets that you will place in it. Certain types of assets are not allowed in a will and it may be better to put other types of assets in a trust. Examples of what you can put into a will include cars, property, stocks, bonds, high worth collections, etc. 

If you are married, each partner typically creates a separate will. This means that you can only leave your share of the assets that you own together. Figuring out your share of assets without the help of an estate planner can sometimes be difficult. 

3. Decide Who The Beneficiaries Will Be

When you pass away, your property, assets, and money will go somewhere. Writing a good will is the first step in taking control of who your assets will eventually go to. You likely already have a list of beneficiaries in mind, but it is important to continue updating your list. 

For instance, you may have a child or grandchild born after you create your will. If you do not update it, they will not have any claim to your estate when you die. Though fairness is ideal, it’s ultimately left up to you who gets what and how much each heir is entitled to. 

Neglecting to create a will often leads to judges making these decisions. This could result in family fights and added stress to your already grieving family. 

4. Pick An Executor

The executor of your estate is assigned to carry out your wishes when you pass away. It is recommended that you choose a person or organization that you can trust and has proven to be responsible. Some people are more comfortable choosing a financial institution or estate planning lawyer to execute their will instead of a family member. 

However, if you do choose a family member or close friend as an executor, it is recommended that you offer them fair and equitable payment for carrying out your wishes. Furthermore, choose “alternative executors” in the event that the original is unable to carry the task. 

5. Choose a Guardian For Children Under 18

You do not actually have to have the permission of a friend or family member before naming them as a guardian in a will. With that said, it’s still best to have a conversation with them to gauge their willingness to be a guardian. It is also best to name at least three potential guardians. This is because your first choice may not be in a position to take on a guardianship role if you pass away. 

6. Make Your Intentions Clear

A will is not a place for vague statements. In most cases, people will not be able to guess or intuitively know what you want. The more clear you make your intentions, the less likely your will is to be challenged. Clear language in a will can be especially helpful if you have children from multiple marriages, stepchildren, and/or other important loved ones that may have a claim to your estate. 

7. Create Your Will and Sign it With Witnesses

Making an official will is necessary. Writing your wishes down in a notebook, sending an email, making a social media post, etc. are all forms of will creation that will likely incur many challenges. 

When creating a will, you will generally need at least two witnesses (depending on the state) to sign it. Most states stipulate that the witness cannot be a person who is listed as a beneficiary of your will. Additionally, witnesses must be over 18. 

Ideally, the witnesses should be people that will likely be around after you pass away, This is because a judge may call a witness to testify in the event your will is challenged in court. It’s best that you choose someone who can be there in case something goes wrong. 

What Documents Are Included in a Will? 

When planning your will, there are a few documents that are needed. The documents that you need will depend on whether or not you choose to hire an attorney and your specific needs. In general, a few documents to have on hand when creating a will include:

  • A list of family members, including a family tree if available 
  • Copies of all other estate planning documents created in the past
  • Financial statements and documents that prove ownership of assets
  • Deeds and real estate property tax bills
  • Proof of ownership in other types of assets such as businesses 

Do You Need a Lawyer to Make a Will?

Technically, no. If you have a sound mind, you can make a basic will on your own without the help of an attorney. Most states simply require you and your witnesses to sign and date the document. However, it can be helpful (though not mandatory) to have a sworn statement signed and notarized. 

If you have many assets, complicated relationships, or other unique circumstances, it can be helpful to work with an estate planning lawyer. You may want to consider hiring an estate planning lawyer if you have any of the following concerns.

  • You are not certain about the type of will you need
  • You are considering disinheriting your spouse
  • You own a stake in a small business, but not all of it 
  • You desire to make long term care arrangements for a beneficiary 
  • You believe that your last testament will face many challenges
  • You desire a comprehensive estate plan

Save Money With an Unbundled Lawyer Today

The cost of making a will can vary depending on the complexity of your needs. Fees for will creation can be as low as a few hundred dollars (for very basic needs) to thousands of dollars in upfront fees. 

This is especially true if you are interested in creating a comprehensive estate plan that gives more detailed instructions about your finances, health, disbursements, charitable giving, etc. 

With Unbundled Legal Services, you can hire an unbundled estate planning lawyer in your area to handle parts of your estate planning needs, while you save money by taking care of the rest yourself. 

Fees for Unbundled attorneys start as low as $500 – $1500. This means that you will not have to pay thousands of dollars in upfront fees if your estate planning needs are a good fit to be unbundled. 

Before you pay high upfront fees, get instantly connected to an Unbundled attorney in your area, and learn if your estate planning needs are a good fit to be unbundled today.

Related Blog Posts

Ready to Talk to a Lawyer?

Receive a free consultation with a more affordable lawyer in your local area