Writing a last will and testament can be a depressing use of your time because it forces you to acknowledge the inevitability of death. However, it’s an important estate planning tool aimed at taking care of your loved ones and executing your last wishes regarding your property.
When should I write a last will and testament?
Legally, anyone 18 or older can write a will. Whether you feel you have enough financial assets to deem a will necessary is your personal decision.
As you move through life and accumulate wealth and assets, it’s best to have a will. Then it’s important to periodically make changes to it as you hit major milestones, such as getting married, buying property, having children, or getting divorced.
DIY or do I need legal help?
A quick online search will reveal a plethora of horror stories about people who tried to write a will by themselves. If you’re really unsure of how to start writing a will, it’s best to talk to an estate planning lawyer who can help you write one up.
If you feel confident, and can learn by example, go ahead and attempt writing your own. Keep in mind your will still needs to meet the legal requirements of the state you live in to be valid.
In Indiana, a will must be in writing and signed by you and two disinterested witnesses—basically anyone who doesn’t stand to benefit from your death or inherit anything.
What should I include?
You must include a beneficiary, someone who will inherit your property when you pass, and an executor, someone who will ensure your wishes are carried out as you intended.
Next, if you have kids who are under the age of 18, you’ll want to establish guardianship. Make sure the person you plan on designating to take care of your kids when you pass knows in advance. If they don’t, and find out after you’re gone, they can deny the responsibility. If you don’t have a second guardian option listed, the state will decide where your kids will end up.
Lastly, you should divide your property and assets up the way you see fit. You can give everything to your spouse, or some to your parents. Divide it up however you feel your loved ones would benefit the most. You can even designate who gets to have your favorite coffee cup! If it’s important to you, don’t leave it out.
Can I make it personal?
In most cases reading a will isn’t similar to those scenes in movies you see because it’s a legal transaction. If you want your will to be sentimental at all when it’s being read, include a letter at the end. Usually letters are only included to clarify specific requests on raising your children, or to spell out your wishes, but feel free to make it say whatever you want.
Is it critical I write one?
Yes. Writing a last will and testament will ensure your property is designated the way you want, and not left to the state to decide. If you have assets of any sort, it’s worth spending an hour or two planning out how you want your loved ones to be taken care of.