Senior legal guide: writing a will

The basics of wills: why you need one and how to write one.

Whatever your age, it is important to write a will. A will ensures that your wishes are carried out after you are gone; it specifies to whom you would like to leave your assets. In addition, if you are the parent or guardian of minor children, a will is used to name a subsequent guardian for them. If you do not have a will, the courts will decide who gets any assets you leave behind. Since it is not always a straightforward matter, it is better to ensure your wishes are known in a will.

Many people do not write wills because they think it is too complicated or expensive. Others do not write wills because they do not believe they have enough assets to make it worthwhile. While you may not have millions in assets, you probably own more of value than you think. If you own a home, there may be considerable value in the equity. Also, consider the value of all of your bank, retirement and investment accounts. Finally, there is the property you own; things such as your car, artwork, jewelry, silverware, electronics, antiques and other items in your home are all worth money and may also be of sentimental value to people you know.

Before you sit down to write a will, it is a good idea to make a list of all of these items. Once you have an idea of your worth, you need to think about who you would like to name to receive money or property you leave behind. Note that since life insurance names beneficiaries in the event of your death, it does not usually have to be included in a will. Once you have finished this step, you are ready to write a will.

You have several options for drafting your will. If you choose to hire an attorney to do it, you may be surprised by the low cost if your will is not out of the ordinary. Many lawyers will draft a basic will for a couple hundred dollars, which is well worth the expense it can save your heirs later.

You may also write a will yourself. Standard forms for wills are available in many business stationery stores and for download online. Other web sites offer online will questionnaires. For a small fee, you can fill out an online form and they will draft a will for you. If you use an online site, make sure they specify that legal experts look over each document before it is finalized. Also since laws vary from state to state, make sure that you find an appropriate form for your state. Can you just sit down and write your will? Yes, you absolutely can, however for the low cost of a form or online service it is probably worth the assurance you are covering all the bases.

Once your will is written, it needs to be signed and witnessed to be legally binding. It does not need to be notarized, but in most states it must be witnessed by two people who are not being left anything in the will.

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