Contributor, Benzinga
November 17, 2023

It’s true that creating a will is a somewhat sobering acceptance of your eventual fate. However, creating a will is still a highly responsible act of love and care and something you do to provide for your family members.

Benzinga will guide you through the items you need before you get started, offer you several options for actually getting your will — getting a lawyer, online service or doing it yourself — and take you through the steps you can complete to get your will in no time at all.

What You’ll Need Before You Get Started

There are several considerations before you get started, including the documents you’ll need to have and the costs involved.

Documents

Depending on what kind of service you choose — whether you go to a lawyer’s office or opt to do an online version of your will — you’ll need certain documents. At the very least, here are some documents to have handy when you’re in planning mode:

  • Copies of all estate planning documents you’ve had prior to your will.
  • Financial statements that show what you own, how the title is held (in the case of a home, for example) and the approximate value of those assets. Life insurance policy amounts should also be included.
  • Any real estate property tax bills and deeds.
  • Examples of ownership in other assets, including businesses you own.
  • A list of family members, or better yet, a family tree, so anyone who needs to know after your death can clearly see a linked path to your descendants.

Cost

Similar to the documents you need, the cost depends on the type of service you use. The cost of making an online typically ranges from $20 to $100, but it can get even cheaper than that.

For $5 to $20, you can also buy a standard will and testament on already-printed forms sold at office supply stores like OfficeMax, Office Depot or Staples.

Your most expensive option will likely be hiring a lawyer, who might charge anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to create a will. The cost of a lawyer will ultimately depend on where you live and how complex your personal situation is with regard to your finances and estate.

Know What Type of Will You Want

There are several different types of wills you can consider, though you may need help determining the type of will that’s your best fit by someone who has legal expertise.

Simple or Statutory Will

A simple or statutory will is a general document that works well for people with small, uncomplicated estates. You can fill in the blanks on a state-specific template that contains specific terms that meet your state's requirements.

Pour-Over Will

Have you set up a living trust? You can use this type of will to name the trust as your primary beneficiary. Probate assets not already named in the trust will go into this when you die and be distributed according to its terms.

Conditional or Contingent Wills

Conditional or contingent wills are only valid if a certain event occurs. For example, maybe you decide that you will give your children everything once they reach a certain age. The estate can be distributed as if no will existed if you die before your children reach that certain age.

Couple's Wills

There are three types of wills couples may choose to prepare. They can prepare reciprocal or mirror wills, joint wills or mutual wills. Each type is similar in look but typically addresses leaving everything to the other person in the event of the other spouse’s death.

Living Will

A living will is not a document that relates to your assets after you die. Instead, it sets out instructions for what type of medical treatment you’d like to have if you’re incapacitated and cannot communicate. A good example of this could be whether you want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing.

Steps for How to Set Up a Will

Below are the steps to take for how to set up your will. What is covered at a glance:

  • Take the necessary steps to prepare: This includes gathering important documents and researching which type of will you want.
  • Develop your plan: What will go on your will and who will execute it once it's time to divvy up your possessions?
  • Choose a method of producing your will: There are many options to actually create your will, including using a lawyer or a DIY service like LegalZoom. Assess which method is right for you.
  • Execute on your will. Once you begin setting up your will, you will have to choose an executor and decide on a guardian for your kids.

Step 1: Make a Plan

As you make a plan, be sure to get your spouse or partner on board. While this can be a delicate subject, it’s important to have their cooperation to get the job done. Think through a few things before you march into a lawyer’s office or pick another type of service. Think through:

  • Who you’d like your beneficiaries to be — the individuals who get your assets when you die.
  • Who the executor will be — this is the individual tasked with making sure your wishes are carried out.
  • Select a guardian for your children.
  • Think about who gets what when you die, such as valuable artwork, a restored antique car, a set of prized golf clubs, etc.
  • Determine whether you want to include an advance directive as well. Advance directives are legal documents that clearly state how you’d like to approach end-of-life care. You can make your wishes known to family and healthcare professionals as well.

Finally, decide whether you want to set up a will yourself or hire someone to help you.

Step 2: Choose a Method

Do you consider yourself middle class? Or are you a multimillionaire? If you’re the latter, you might benefit from hiring a tax attorney. On the other hand, anyone can consider an online service provider such as Trust & Will.

There are three primary ways you can get a will.

Use a Lawyer

A lawyer can offer you a method to be sure that everything is done the way it should be for your state laws. A lawyer can also speak specifically about tax advantages. They will consider your own specific circumstances, especially tricky circumstances. For example, you may want to want to disinherit a spouse, and that move would likely require a lawyer’s services.

Use an Electronic Service

Electronic services are more cost-effective options than hiring a lawyer, and you’ll get a step-by-step walkthrough of a series of questions to help you create the will. You then need to print out the will and get it signed by at least two witnesses and notarized. Most online software programs for wills let you go back into the will and make changes or additions to the document later on as you see fit.

Do It Yourself

DIY legal services are popular and affordable. Using a platform like LegalZoom ensures that you can consult with an independent attorney, receive the services you require and pay a fair price. Additionally, pricing at LegalZoom ensures that you get value for the money even if you purchase a more expensive package with extra features.

Step 3: Select Your Beneficiaries

You may know immediately who you want your home, money and other assets to go to when you die, but it’s important to make sure you’ve got an up-to-date beneficiary list.

An online will website already includes one on the form. An attorney, on the other hand, will be sure to specifically ask about your beneficiary designations, though if anything changes, it’s a little tougher to do; adding a new beneficiary to an online form or taking someone off is much easier.

Step 4: Choose Your Executor

The executor of your will makes sure that all your wishes are carried out. In other words, this trusted person will divvy up assets to the people you’ve designated. For example, if you’re planning to give your great-niece your valuable china set, your executor will make sure she gets it.

Many times, individuals select their bank or attorney as the executor of the will, which adds a bit of a fee to the picture. If the executor is a trusted person, it’s a good idea to be sure that he or she is compensated as well, because executing a will can be a taxing job.

Step 5: Decide on a Guardian for Your Kids

Carefully consider and be sure to get permission from the individuals you’d like to be your kids’ guardian. You may want to consider asking a second set of guardians.

For example, perhaps you choose your sister and brother-in-law to be the guardians of your children, but then they get a divorce or pass away. Having a backup set of guardians might be a smart move. That way, you’d have two backups on the list to take your children in the event that you die unexpectedly.

Step 6: Be Very Clear About Your Intentions

It’s easy to make assumptions when you’re drafting your will. After all, you may be positive that everyone will just know that you want your great-niece to have the china set, and you may be sure that everyone knows just as well as you do that your granddaughter gets the silver tea service. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s really important to spell everything out exactly according to your wishes; otherwise, your intentions could be missed.

Peace of Mind for the Future

Creating a will is important for ensuring the well-being of your family in the future. The process involves gathering documents, considering costs and making decisions about beneficiaries, executors and guardians. Whether you use a lawyer or DIY, the key is to be clear about your intentions. Planning and executing a will provides peace of mind and protection for your assets and loved ones.

Setting up a will is one of the best ways to help put your loved ones’ minds at ease when you die. It’s one of the most important ways to provide for your family members and divvy up your assets exactly how you envisioned.

Still not sure which service you prefer? Trust & Will can give you a complete will in minutes, starting at $159, and you can specify your preferences for healthcare and medical treatment. Your family can use your preferences for healthcare as a guide if you are incapacitated. Trust & Will’s documents have been designed and vetted by attorneys with decades of estate planning experience.

Finally, if you’re dissatisfied with your completed documents, you can contact Trust & Will within 30 days of your purchase for a full refund, without any strings attached.Exploring options you have with your assets? Learn whether setting up a trust is right for you, and how to make the most of your assets now with Benzinga’s investing guides.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

What happens if I pass away and I don't have a will?

A

If you die without a will, your assets are probated or passed through the courts for distribution according to the laws of intestacy. This means the laws of your state control your estate, and your wishes are not honored.

State laws vary. It is typical for money and other assets to pass to your spouse first. If you die without a spouse, your estate passes to your children equally. If there are no children, it will pass to your parents. This process will continue through the next living relatives. And if there are no blood relatives, your estate will pass to the state.

Q

Do I have to have a minimum amount of assets to create a last will?

A

No. You can create a last will to distribute assets worth $10 or $10 million.

Q

Can I write a will for free?

A

It is possible to create a free will using online platforms and templates, but it is advisable to consult a legal professional for a more comprehensive and legally binding document.

About Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is a versatile freelance writer and financial editor, recognized for her expertise in higher education, personal finance, and investing. With over a decade of experience in online content creation, Melissa has established herself as a trusted source for insightful financial advice and educational resources. Her writing prowess extends to diverse topics, including trading, cryptocurrency, and college savings. Melissa’s commitment to empowering readers with practical knowledge and actionable insights is evident in her contributions to various reputable platforms. As a dedicated financial editor, she meticulously covers the complexities of personal finance, ensuring readers have the tools they need to make informed decisions. Melissa’s work exemplifies her passion for educating and informing audiences on matters of financial literacy and investment strategies.