A legal will is an important document that specifies how your assets will be distributed after you die. It also specifies who will take care of any minor children upon your death. It is a crucial document that all people who care about what happens to their assets need to have in place; all who have minor children must write their wills to ensure their proper care.
If you do not have a legal will in place upon your death, the fate of your children and assets lies in the hands of the courts of the state in which you were residing at death. This can cause lengthy battles for the people whom you wanted to receive your assets.
It could also mean that any surviving minor children may not be raised by someone of your choice. Perhaps you want your children to be raised by a close friend. Without a will that expresses your wishes, the courts will be more likely to give guardianship to a relative who seeks custody.
Fortunately, creating a will and making it legal is not difficult. Follow these steps:
- Write the will. You can write a will yourself, but you may leave out something important that didn't cross your mind. At the very least, use a form that you can pick up at most business supply stores; they are inexpensive and you will be less likely to leave out important information.
You can also use an online service to create your will. For a low fee, services like Legacy Writer or Legal Zoom will ask you a series of questions online, create the will for you, and send it to you in a file that you can print from your own computer. Frequently, you are not charged for these services until your will is complete.
Another option is to have a lawyer draft it for you. If you have a complicated estate or you want to ensure that everything is exactly the way you desire, it may be worth your while to hire a lawyer.
- Make sure to appoint an executor. An executor is the person who will make sure that your wishes are carried out. He or she will distribute your assets according to your wishes and take care of any paperwork involved in doing so. Typically, an executor is allowed to take 10% of your assets as payment for the job.
- To legalize the will, it needs to be signed by you in the presence of two witnesses, who must sign also. The state of Vermont requires three signatures. You must be sure to add your signature to the end of the document; if you sign earlier than the very end, complications could arise later. In the event that your will needs to be executed, most states will require the executor to contact the witnesses beforehand.
- To avoid the cumbersome process of having the executor track down the witnesses, you can go a step further and make your will "self proving." By having your will signed and witnessed in front of a notary public, you create a self-proving will that the courts will accept without contacting the witnesses.