Checklist of Things to Consider When Writing Out a Will

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Checklist of Things to Consider When Writing Out a Will

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Drafting a will appears to be a daunting task, overwhelming anyone as it involves so many details of your personal and financial life that it is often difficult to know how to even begin. Do not let the seeming complexity prevent you from drafting this important document. Use this simple checklist to make the process of writing out a will much more manageable.

Suited man with an iced coffee signing paperwork

Assets, Debts, and Beneficiaries

Gather information about all of your assets and debts. Assets include real estate, financial accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and valuable personal property. Consider also sentimental assets that may not have significant financial value but have significant sentimental value to one or more of your beneficiaries. Determine if any assets will pass directly to a beneficiary and if any assets will be sold and divided on a percentage basis as part of your estate.

Debts include mortgages, credit cards, car loans, student loans, tax debts, personal debts, and any medical bills. During the probate process, your assets will be used to pay any outstanding, valid debts. Consider whether your assets are sufficient to pay for your debts.

Decide who will receive the assets of your estate. If you are married, the most common beneficiary for your assets is your spouse. Other common beneficiaries include children, extended family, close personal friends, or charities. Determine if you would like a beneficiary to receive a specific piece of property, such as a family heirloom, or a portion of any cash assets.

Guardians for Minor Children

In a case where one parent dies, the other generally takes custody of any minor children. However, if both parents die, a will allows parents to determine who becomes the guardian of their minor children. The state will choose a guardian if the parents do not name one in writing.

In addition to naming a first choice for a guardian, it is wise to name a backup. Further, discuss your decision with any potential guardians. Select only guardians able and willing to care for your minor children. Consider future possibilities before naming a couple as guardians for minor children.

Name an Executor

The executor, or personal representative, is responsible for administering your estate. This includes using assets to pay any valid debts and distributing remaining assets according to the terms of your will.

Carefully consider who you'd like to name as your executor. You must trust the judgment of your executor and be confident your executor will follow the terms of your will. It is easiest and least expensive to appoint a family member. However, consider the emotional stress of your death and whether that person will be organized enough for the task.

Remember, the more organized you are, the easier things will be for your executor upon your death. Communicate with your executor so he or she knows where to find important documents, including your will.

Final Considerations

A will should also account for any unique situations your estate presents. You must consider any adult children with special or additional needs and account for digital assets, including providing needed passwords. Sometimes ongoing care for a beloved pet presents a significant expense.

While it may not be fun to think about, having a valid will in place is vital for protecting your family and your assets after your passing. The process of drafting this important document can feel overwhelming for a number of reasons, however, using the checklist above can help to ease the weight of this task. A little preparation and advanced planning can make a huge difference as you begin this process.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.