Guide to Writing a Will

By Cindy Hill

Writing a will is a serious undertaking that can settle your financial and property affairs for your spouse, children and grandchildren, as well as give you peace of mind and confidence that your estate will be administered as you have intended. A review of your present financial assets and consideration of your wishes for your children or grandchildren can help guide you to writing a will.

Debts and Assets

Take your time to assemble a complete list of your debts and assets as you start the process of writing a will. Include noncash assets on your list, like antiques, artwork and real estate. Remember items with sentimental, rather than financial, value too, such as a costume-jewelry pin your great-grandmother wore on her wedding day. Musical instruments, baseball cards, firearms and stamps may well be worth a large sum of money, so have them appraised by a reputable professional. A comprehensive assessment of your debts and assets will guide you in determining which of your assets to bequeath directly to individuals and which to consider selling to pay off any debts that might survive your death, or to create cash to distribute among your heirs. Note where any physical assets are located, notes estate planner and author John Ventura in an interview on National Public Radio's Marketplace, so that your executor and heirs can find them.

Children and Other Dependents

If you have minor children or other dependents, use a will to name a legal guardian for them, advises FindLaw. Ensure that your chosen guardians are aware of your designation and agree to undertake this responsibility, as otherwise they may decline and the probate court may appoint someone not of your choosing. You may also include in your will provisions for the care and financial support of any pets or livestock that you have.

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Complex Family Situations

Writing a will when you have one spouse that you are still married to, and children only by that spouse, is fairly routine, advises financial writer J.D.Roth at Get Rich Slowly. However, if you have children from prior marriages, or are young enough that your spouse might marry and have more children after your death, it becomes critical to be very specific in stating to whom you are leaving what assets. Antenuptial agreements or divorce decrees may contain controlling terms and language that must be included in writing your will. If you choose to exempt one or more children or grandchildren from your will for financial or personal reasons, you should also consider including an explanation of that in your will so that a probate court does not assume that you simply forgot to add that person's name.


The executor is the business manager of an estate, collecting the assets, selling property, filing tax documents and making the distributions, explains FindLaw. You should select an executor carefully, advises John Ventura at National Public Radio Marketplace. Consider selecting a mature family member who will have the respect of the heirs, or a family friend, banker or financial planner whom you trust.

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Will Preparation Checklist


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Steps to Writing a Will

You don’t have to spend your life savings on your estate planning -- in fact, most homeowners with a simple estate and less than $1 million in assets can write a basic will themselves, without the expense involved in hiring an attorney. Writing your own will is relatively easy and inexpensive, and affords you the flexibility to update your estate plan whenever your circumstances demand it.

How to Prepare to Make a Will

Because a will is effective only upon death, it stands as your last statement to the world. A will contains final instructions, disposes of your property, names a guardian for your minor children and appoints an executor for your estate. Although you can modify your will during your lifetime, upon your death the terms are fixed and unalterable. Paying attention to preliminary details ensures that your final statement represents your true intentions. Consulting an attorney will ensure proper distribution of property

Checklist of Things to Consider When Writing Out a Will

Planning for the distribution of your estate after your death can be a daunting task. The many different interests and financial concerns related to aging and potential illness can make it confusing to know where to start. A checklist of things to consider when writing out a will can help you to organize your thoughts and information to ensure that your will accurately reflects your intentions.

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