Guidelines & Checklists for Making a Will

Guidelines & Checklists for Making a Will
••• signing a contract image by William Berry from

People write wills at different points in their lives and for different reasons. Whether you're a new parent who wants to ensure that your child is taken care of in case you die unexpectedly, or nearing retirement age, you may be considering writing your first will. There are basic criteria that need to be met for every will, including naming executors and beneficiaries and including clauses to make the will legally binding. While it's fine to be a part of the drafting process for your will, it's important that you work closely with a lawyer to make sure the final document is legally binding.

Start With the Basics

Give your will a title such as “Last Will and Testament.” Include your full name, including any maiden names, as well as your address; state that you are at least 18 years old. If you have written a previous version of your will, state that this is your final will and should override the prior will. Also state that you are writing the will of your own accord and have not been influenced by others.

Name Executors

The executor is responsible for distributing your assets to the appropriate parties and paying off any debts, funeral expenses or taxes after your death. Ideally, your executor should be someone you trust who is familiar with your assets. Ask close friends, your spouse or other family members if they are comfortable performing these duties. Name an alternate executor in case your first executor is unable to perform his duties. Unless you choose an executor and name that person in the text of your will, the court will designate and potentially charge your estate executor’s fees.

Elect Beneficiaries

Include the full name of each beneficiary in your will to avoid any confusion about their identity. Also name alternate beneficiaries. Include a section titled “Bequests” and name each beneficiary and the specific items or dollar amounts they will inherit. Describe all items in detail so that there is no confusion about who gets which assets.

Designate Guardians

If you have children who will require guardians, you should name a legal guardian in your will to prevent the court from appointing one for you. Again, discuss this decision with the person whom you would like to take on this duty. Make sure the guardian you appoint is willing and able to take on the duties of guardianship. Elect a guardian who is stable and has the time and ability to devote to the care of your children.

Final Considerations

Describe how you would like your remains to be handled after your death. Include any other details about the funeral that you would like to see carried out. Don’t forget to sign each page of your will and to include the signatures of at least two witnesses at the end of the document. Add a statement that explains that they were present at the time you signed the will; also include a clause that states that you were not negatively influenced by other parties in creating the will. Include full names and addresses of witnesses in addition to their signatures.