Have you written a will yet? You should. It doesn’t matter how old you are: if you are married and/or have children, it’s essential that there is official documentation dictating how to execute your wishes in the event of your death. 

Luckily, compiling a will is not hard; in fact, you can easily write your own will through one of two methods: either draft it yourself, or create one through an online program.

Step 1 > Write an introduction. Clearly label the document “Last Will and Testament,” then state your full legal name and address, social security number, and birth date. Next, testify that you are over the age of 18, of sound mind and not making the will under duress. Finally, write that this is your last will and testament, and that it revokes any previously-made will.

Step 2 > Select an executor (the person who carries out the directions of your will.) In most cases, this will be your spouse, but you can name any capable person you know and trust. Be sure you talk to this person about the decision beforehand, and make it clear what his/her responsibilities are. Then, choose a secondary executor in the event that your primary choice is unwilling or unable to perform the duties upon your death. 

Step 3 > Name your heirs. Typically, your spouse and children are the primary beneficiaries. Be sure to clearly identify these persons (full names and birthdates will suffice) so there is no question of identity. Side note: in most states, the spouse has a legal right to inherit. Seek professional legal advice if you reside in one of these states and want to disinherit your spouse.

Step 4 > Name a guardian for any dependent children. Again, be sure to discuss this responsibility with the person you would like to name first; real life shouldn’t be like a Hallmark movie where a single woman suddenly finds she has inherited three children. If you do not choose a person, the court will appoint one for you.

Step 5 > Assess and divide your property. List all forms (this includes real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and all tangible assets) — this is considered your estate. Assign your heirs a percentage of your total assets, and/or make individual bequests of specific pieces of property or cash amounts. Assets that are jointly-owned are not considered part of your estate and will be treated differently. 

Sign 6 > Sign the will. If you have created the will through an online program, have the document sent to you as a proof before you sign it. You may also need to have your signature notarized, depending on your state. 

Sign 7 > At least two witnesses will need to sign the will (some states require three.) These witnesses usually must not be named beneficiaries in the will. Be sure to research your state’s individual requirements for these factors; even one mistake could potentially invalidate the entire document.  You can easily search these requirements through Google.