How to Create a Will

By Dawn Marcotte , last updated June 30, 2011

Creating a will is an important task that should be done by everyone over the age of 18, regardless of marital or financial status. A will dictates how property is divided after death. When no will is written property it is divided by the state. It is particularly important when there are minors as the state will determine where the children live and who will raise them when there is not a will. Creating a will is not difficult, but there are some basic requirements for a will to be valid.

Requirements for a Valid Will

First, the person must be 18 years old. Minors cannot create a valid will. The will must be signed by the individual. Some states will require two witnesses to sign the document, as well. Wills do not need to be notarized, though in some states a living will does. A lawyer is not required to take a part in creating a will, but if the will is complex and involves the creation of trusts or other long term financials for children it is a good idea to consult with a legal professional. The will should be typed if possible, state the full legal name of the individual, give the current address, name the children, spouse and any alternative beneficiaries, as needed. Register the will with the local registrar so a copy is available when it is needed.

Naming an Executor

There are several parts of a will beyond distributing property and income. It is a good idea to name someone to be the executor of the will. This person will be responsible for ensuring the details of the will are followed. This may include putting the estate in probate, paying creditors from the estate, distributing the property and managing trust funds as needed. This role can be large and time-consuming, so discuss it with the person before naming them in the will. It is a good idea to name an alternative executor in case the first choice is not available when needed.

Naming a Guardian

If there are minor children in the family, a guardian should be named. This is a huge responsibility and should be discussed with the prospective guardians before the will is completed. Despite what happens in the movies, this is not something to surprise someone with. If the children are older it is a good idea to share this information with them. This portion of a will is not put into effect unless the deceased has sole custody of the children or is the only remaining parent. It is also a good idea to specify financial arrangements for minor children. Money can be set aside for college or to be given to them at a specific age. The guardian will need access to money for medical, educational and living expenses. If the will is created early, when the children are young, it is a good idea to name an alternative guardian in case the first choice is not available.

Property Division

This is often the most difficult part of writing a will, as people often have a lot more property and assets that they realize. Property that is owned jointly with a spouse is not included in a will if the spouse is still living. Life insurance and other policies that have designated beneficiaries also are not part of the assets covered by a will. Only property and assets owned solely by the individual can be addressed with a will. If a spouse is living, all assets can be given to them to divide as they see fit to any additional beneficiaries if that is appropriate. Another option is to specify what goes to whom. This may be a division of liquid assets or property. It is important to be specific when dividing property, particularly when there is not a living spouse. Large assets such as a house may need to be sold and the proceeds divided.

Charitable Donations

Some individuals want to donate part of their estate to a specific charity. This is an excellent way to dispose of items that would be difficult to sell. Donate clothing, cars, household items and furniture that are not wanted by other members of the family. Without a will this may not happen. Any charitable donations should be outlined in a will with the name of the organization and what is to be donated.

Creating a will is as simple as typing up the document and gathering the correct signatures. Once it is created, register the will with the local state registrar and keep a copy in a safe place.

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