Estate planning can be an overwhelming process, emotionally and mentally. The prices to work with a financial professional certainly don’t help either. These days, it’s possible to find free templates and do-it-yourself kits online that make estate planning more affordable. While after-life planning can be complicated, you may not need to spend money on an estate planning attorney. If your estate is simple, it might be worth investigating how to make a will for free instead. A financial advisor can help you sort through your options for making an estate plan.
Identify a Free Will Template
Your first step is to choose how you’ll obtain the template for your free will. You can either search online for resources that provide a template or work through a reputable legal resource. Often you will find that online services charge little to nothing for a will template, although that price can increase if you want a package with more documents.
Online resources like Freewill.com, a nonprofit site, can also offer forms for advance healthcare directives and durable financial power of attorney. You can alter these forms when you want, but keep in mind you’re responsible for destroying or editing the previous version if you do.
Decide How You Would Like to Distribute Your Assets
Having the form is one thing, but you need to reflect on your distribution wishes carefully. Your will should accurately reflect them. That also requires you to be aware of your assets. So, familiarize yourself with everything that comprises your assets and think about how you want them handled. When you detail the allocation in your will, you should set specific instructions for your beneficiaries. This measure will help your loved ones avoid court costs and in-fighting that can result when a will is too vague.
You also have the option to include varying levels of contingency in your will. For example, you can choose your spouse to receive a certain percentage, but specify that your particular friend will receive it if they don’t outlive you. You can then create a chain of succession. This allows you to minimize updating your will.
Select Someone to Fulfill Your Wishes
When you draft a will, you need to select an individual to execute it. The person will be in charge of seeing your wishes communicated and carried out. The title of this person can change depending on the state. Although you will see them typically called executors, they may also be titled administrators or a personal representatives. Your executor should either be a close, trusted individual in your life or a professional fiduciary.
That way, you can ensure your estate will be administered appropriately and the person you’ve left to do it will have your best interest in mind. If you choose someone close to you, make sure they can handle the emotional stress that may come with the position. So, speak to your candidate(s) beforehand about your expectations and the contents of your will.
Make Sure Your Will Fulfills All Legal Requirements
Each state demands different requirements to recognize your will. These guidelines can include recognized formatting, minimum asset distribution and rules regarding your witnesses. A will can be made invalid for numerous reasons, so it’s important to be careful when drafting yours.
For example, if you or any of your witnesses are deemed mentally incompetent, that can invalidate your will. Or, you if have multiple wills, they can come into conflict with one another.
Share Your Wishes With Your Family
If your will’s executor is someone from your personal life, you should talk to him or her about your distribution wishes. Similarly, you’ll want to talk with your family about your plans as well. Since they are the ones who will have to deal with your loss and the estate as your beneficiaries, they should know what waits. You should also communicate to them where you keep copies of the will.
If your original copy is with an estate planning professional or attorney, have their contact information accessible to your spouse or executor.
Is a Free Will Sufficient for My Needs?
If your estate and its distribution are very straightforward, a free will might suit your needs. As long as you research that the template works with your state regulations, you shouldn’t experience any legal ramifications. However, the more complicated your will needs to be, the less suitable it is for a free will format.
If you have a complicated family background, such as children from multiple marriages, have a diverse investment portfolio or generally have complex distribution wishes, a free will likely won’t work for you. While they are affordable and accessible, they’re not customizable to your needs. If your will is not written correctly, has gaps or is vague, your family may have to contest it in probate court. This would lead to legal costs and emotional damage that a will is supposed to prevent. However, don’t be afraid to bring a free will you’ve worked on to your estate planner or attorney. That document can be a good place to start.
Free wills are a valuable resource for those with simple estates. They can even be valuable starting points for someone new to estate planning. However, they have their limits. An individual with complex distribution wishes will find that a free will doesn’t accommodate all their specific needs. Even more, if it isn’t completed properly or has gaps, it might become invalid, which could lead to probate court. When you write your will, you want to finish it knowing that it does exactly what it’s supposed to do: protect you and your loved ones. Your will’s validity influences that.
Estate Planning Tips
- Consider working with a financial advisor as you create or modify your estate plan. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- you can locate financial advisors in your area who can help you achieve your financial goals. If that sounds like the help you need, get started today.
- A key part of estate planning is assessing your need for life insurance: how much and what type of policy. A life insurance calculator can give you a quick estimate of what you should consider buying.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/fizkes, ©iStock.com/ridvan_celik, ©iStock.com/yongyuan