Although most people don't want to think about it, death is a reality for everyone. Your family and loved ones will already be emotionally burdened, so your last gift to them should be making things easier for them, by leaving an explicit, well written will, that clearly outlines your final wishes.
Obtaining a template for creating a will is easy; most office supply stores carry printed forms or software programs that will create the forms for you. Many states have downloadable forms for creating wills appropriate to their local laws.
Also, there are many websites and services devoted to helping people create their last will and testament. This checklist will help you to ensure that you've covered all the bases.
Destroy All Copies of Any Old Wills
If you have previously executed a will, physically destroy it. Even though the language in most formal wills say that they revoke all prior wills, you should not rely on such language to officially revoke them - do it yourself by shredding them, burning them, or otherwise destroying them.
Enter Information About All of Your Assets
Make a list of all of your assets - valuable material items (cars, jewelry, houses, etc.), as well as heirloom items (antiques, family Bible, etc.) and personal items (DVD collections, photo albums, etc.). Decide who you want to leave certain items to, and then enter your information and bequests into the form in the appropriate spots.
Provide at least Nominal Gifts to All of Your Children
If you have children, make certain that you leave at least something for each one of them. If any of your children are deceased, and they had children, be sure to mention those grandchildren in your will. If you leave nothing for them, a judge could determine at a later date that you forgot to do so, should one of them challenge your will.
It is best to make your intentions clear and demonstrate that you did not forget anyone. Even a gift of $1 to every child will suffice - just be sure to mention them by name and leave them something, or state specifically that you are leaving them nothing.
It is generally not a good idea to leave a nominal gift to a spouse using a preformatted will, because most states require that a surviving spouse receive one-third to one-half of the deceased spouse's estate. If you wish to leave less than half of your estate to your spouse, then you should consult an attorney to see what the laws are in your state.
Review and Correct Any Errors
Review your information carefully, and ensure that your instructions clearly and accurately reflect your intent. If you have a good friend or acquaintance you can trust to be objective, let them read the will and give you feedback.
Spelling mistakes, grammar problems, or typographical errors don't really matter, provided that your intent is clear. If a mistake raises any doubt, correct the error and reprint the page. Do not use whiteout or any similar correction product under any circumstances. The will must be flawless, with no visible changes or corrections.
Select Appropriate Witnesses
All states require two witnesses, with the exception of Vermont. However, it is strongly recommended that you have at least three witnesses sign your will in the event that a witness dies, or moves to another state. Your spouse or children should not serve as witnesses.
In addition, your witnesses must be at least 18 years of age, and should not be a beneficiary to your will; otherwise, the court could later disqualify that beneficiary from his or her inheritance. Any problems with the validity of your witnesses will make your will more vulnerable to challenge.
Choose an Appropriate Executor and Alternate Executor
It could prove very costly for your executor to travel back and forth to manage your estate, if you select an executor who lives far away. Ideally, these individuals should reside in the same state.
In addition, some states require that out-of-state executors post a cash bond, even if you have waived this requirement in your will. You should always name an alternate executor, in case the primary executor is unable to act as your executor for some reason.
Consider Whether a Notary and Self-Proving Affidavit are Best for You
Notarizing your will is unnecessary, unless you choose to complete a Self-Proving Affidavit simultaneous with the signing of your will. A Self-Proving Affidavit will make it unnecessary for your witnesses to appear in court to affirm your will's validity after your death.
The Affidavit can potentially save your beneficiaries and witnesses considerable inconvenience. It also gives your will an extra layer of authentication, that can help your beneficiaries avoid a long and costly probate process.
If your state permits a Self-Proving Affidavit, and if you elect to attach one to your will, remember that the same witnesses who observe you signing the will should also observe you signing the Self-Proving Affidavit. Have a notary present at the signing of your will, and then sign the will and the Self-Proving Affidavit at the same time.
Sign and Date Your Will
Sign a single copy of the will together with all the witnesses you have chosen. Distribute unsigned copies, and store your will in a safe location. Witnesses must be in your immediate presence and must observe your actual signing of the will, and all the witnesses must observe the other witnesses signing the will.
You do not need to read your will to them, and it is unnecessary for them to read it. However, they must clearly understand that the document they are signing is your Last Will and Testament. You must clearly explain to them that you intend the document to function as your will upon your death.
Remember, only prepare and complete only ONE original will. You should not have more than one original or even photocopies of your signed will.
Doing so can complicate matters if you wish to create a new will later, because it may prove difficult to track down all copies of your old will to destroy them. Instead, consider providing your beneficiaries, executor, and alternate executor each with an unsigned copy of your will.
Store your will in a safe place such as a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box, and let your executor and alternate executor know where they can find and access your original will upon your death. A little bit of planning while you are still living can make things easier for your loved ones after you're gone.