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Your Guide to Creating a Will: Protect Your Legacy

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Protect Your Legacy with a Will

Creating a will is crucial for ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your passing. Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know:

  • Legal Validity: You must be at least 18 years old, of sound mind, and sign your will in front of two witnesses.
  • Inventory Assets: Clearly list your assets and who will receive them.
  • Choose an Executor: Someone trustworthy to carry out your will.
  • Appoint Guardians: Essential if you have minor children.

Having a will protects your legacy, reduces stress for your loved ones, and helps avoid costly legal conflicts. It’s not just for the wealthy; everyone should have a well-defined plan for their assets. By creating a will, you provide clarity and peace of mind during a challenging time for your family.

I’m Marty Burbank, an estate planning expert with experience in creating wills. Having served in various capacities, from elder law to military service, I’m committed to helping you protect your legacy.

Infographic showing steps to create a will - creating a will infographic step-infographic-4-steps

Understanding the Basics of Creating a Will

Creating a will is essential for protecting your legacy and ensuring your wishes are respected. Below, we’ll break down the basics of creating a will, including the legal requirements, validity, and the different types of wills.

Legal Requirements and Validity

To be legally valid, a will must meet specific requirements:

  • Age and Mental Capacity: You must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind.
  • Written Document: The will must be in writing.
  • Signature: You must sign the will.
  • Witnesses: Typically, two witnesses who are not beneficiaries must also sign the will.

These steps help ensure the will is legally sound and can be enforced after your death.

Types of Wills

There are four main types of wills, each serving different needs and situations:

Simple Will

A simple will is straightforward and is best for those with uncomplicated estates. It lists your assets and names beneficiaries. You also appoint an executor to carry out your wishes and can name a guardian for any minor children.

Simple Will - creating a will

Testamentary Trust

A testamentary trust is part of a will and creates a trust that takes effect after your death. It’s ideal for those with young children or dependents with special needs. This type of will ensures that the assets are managed and distributed according to your instructions, providing ongoing support.

Joint Will

A joint will is a single document created by two people, usually spouses. It outlines what happens to the couple’s assets when one or both pass away. The downside is its inflexibility; once one partner dies, the surviving partner cannot change the will.

Living Will

A living will is different from the other types. It doesn’t deal with asset distribution but rather outlines your medical care preferences if you become incapacitated. This document can spare your loved ones from making difficult medical decisions on your behalf.


Understanding the basics of these types of wills helps you choose the one that best fits your needs. In the next section, we will explore the steps to creating your will, including how to inventory your assets, choose an executor, and select beneficiaries.

Steps to Creating Your Will

Creating a will is a crucial step in protecting your legacy and ensuring your wishes are honored. Let’s break down the process into simple steps.

Choosing an Executor

The executor of your will is the person responsible for carrying out your wishes. This person will manage your estate, pay any debts, and distribute your assets according to your will.

Responsibilities: The executor has several important tasks, including collecting assets, paying debts, and distributing remaining assets to beneficiaries. They must act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries.

Trustworthiness: Choose someone you trust deeply. This person should be responsible and detail-oriented. If you don’t have a trusted family member, you can name your attorney or CPA. Avoid corporate trustees due to high costs.

Executor’s Role: The executor must be over 18 and without felony convictions. They will handle legal and financial obligations, so make sure they are up to the task.

Selecting Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries are the individuals or entities who will receive your assets. It’s essential to be specific and clear to avoid confusion and disputes.

Legal Names: Use full legal names to prevent any ambiguity. This ensures that the right person or organization receives the intended assets.

Relationship Clarification: Clearly state your relationship with each beneficiary. For example, “my daughter, Jane Doe” or “my friend, John Smith.” This helps clarify your intentions.

Non-Family Beneficiaries: If you wish to leave assets to non-family members or organizations, specify these beneficiaries clearly. For instance, you might leave a donation to a charity.

Inventory Assets

Before you can distribute your assets, you need to know what you have. Make a detailed list of all your possessions, including:

  • Personal Belongings: Jewelry, furniture, collectibles, etc.
  • Real Estate: Homes, land, rental properties.
  • Financial Assets: Bank accounts, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts.
  • Other Assets: Vehicles, pets, digital assets.

Being thorough helps ensure nothing is overlooked.

Appoint Guardians

If you have minor children, appointing guardians is essential. This person will take care of your children if you pass away.

  • Primary Guardian: Choose someone who aligns with your values and is willing to take on this responsibility.
  • Alternate Guardian: Name a backup in case the primary guardian is unable to serve.

Discuss your decision with the potential guardians to ensure they are willing and able to take on this role.

In the next section, we will dive into the legal formalities involved in creating a will, including witnessing, signing, and the importance of self-proving affidavits.

Legal Formalities in Creating a Will

Creating a will is more than just writing down your wishes. To make sure your will is legally binding, certain formalities must be followed. These include witnessing, signing, and considering self-proving affidavits. Let’s break these down.

Importance of Witnesses

Witnessing your will is crucial for its legal validity. Witnesses ensure that the will reflects your true intentions and that you were of sound mind when you signed it.

Disinterested Witnesses: Your witnesses must be “disinterested,” meaning they should not be beneficiaries in the will. Having disinterested witnesses helps avoid any potential conflicts of interest and ensures the will’s legitimacy.

Witness Requirements: Typically, you need at least two witnesses to watch you sign the will. They must also sign the will in your presence. This is a key step to make your will legally binding.

Legal Implications: If your will is not properly witnessed, it may be invalidated in court. This can lead to your estate being distributed according to state laws, which may not align with your wishes.

Example: John, a resident of California, wrote a will but didn’t have it witnessed. When he passed away, the court deemed his will invalid, and his estate was distributed according to California’s intestacy laws, not as he had intended.

Signing Your Will

Signing your will is a simple but essential step. You must sign at the end of the document to affirm that it is your final will and testament. This signature must be done in the presence of your witnesses.

Key Points:
– Sign at the end of the document.
– Do it in front of your witnesses.
– Ensure your witnesses sign the will in your presence.

Self-Proving Affidavits

While not always required, a self-proving affidavit can simplify the probate process. This is a sworn statement by you and your witnesses, signed in the presence of a notary public. It confirms that the will was properly executed and that you were of sound mind.

– Reduces the likelihood that witnesses will need to testify in court.
– Streamlines the probate process.
– Adds an extra layer of validation to your will.

How to Create a Self-Proving Affidavit:
1. Prepare the Affidavit: Typically, this is a standard form available in most states.
2. Sign in Presence of a Notary: You and your witnesses sign the affidavit in front of a notary public.
3. Attach to Your Will: Keep the affidavit with your will for easy reference.

In summary, following these legal formalities helps ensure your will is recognized and enforced according to your wishes. Next, we’ll discuss making your will legally binding and secure.

Making Your Will Legally Binding and Secure

Storing Your Will

Once you’ve created your will, it’s vital to ensure it’s legally binding and securely stored. Here are some key steps:

While not always required, notarizing your will can add an extra layer of security. A notarized will is less likely to be contested, as the notary verifies the identity of the signatories.

Safe Storage
Keeping your will safe is crucial. Here are some options:

  • Fireproof Safe: Store the original document in a fireproof safe at home. This keeps it protected from physical damage.
  • Safe Deposit Box: Another secure option is a safe deposit box at a bank. However, ensure your executor has access, as banks may have restrictions.
  • Digital Legacy Drawer: Consider storing a digital copy in a secure online space. This provides easy access and protects against physical loss.

Communicating Will’s Existence
Inform key people about your will’s location and contents. This includes your executor, beneficiaries, and any guardians named in your will.

  • Executor Access: Ensure your executor knows where the will is stored and has the means to access it. Without this, executing your will could be delayed.
  • Periodic Reminders: Keep your executor and beneficiaries updated on any changes to your will. Regular communication ensures everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities.

By following these steps, you can make sure your will is both legally binding and secure. Next, we’ll cover some frequently asked questions about creating a will.

Frequently Asked Questions about Creating a Will

Are DIY Wills a Good Idea?

Yes, you can write a will by yourself. Many people choose to create their wills using DIY kits or templates, which can be found online for free or at a low cost. However, it’s crucial to understand the legal requirements specific to your state or locale.

Pros of DIY Wills:
Cost-effective: Writing your will can be free or very inexpensive.
Convenience: You can do it at your own pace and in the comfort of your home.

Cons of DIY Wills:
Complexity: If your estate is large or has complex assets, a DIY will might not cover all legal nuances.
Errors: Mistakes in wording or execution can make your will invalid. For example, witnesses must sign your will, and in many states, they can’t be beneficiaries.

Expert Tip: If you have any doubts, consult an estate attorney to review your will. This ensures that your document meets all legal criteria and truly reflects your wishes.

What are the Main Rules of Writing a Will?

Creating a will involves several key steps to ensure it is valid and enforceable:

  1. Identify Your Assets: Make a list of all your assets, including property, bank accounts, and personal belongings.
  2. Choose an Executor: Select someone you trust to carry out your will’s instructions. Make sure they are willing and able to take on this responsibility.
  3. Select Beneficiaries: Clearly state who will inherit your assets. Use full legal names and specify relationships to avoid confusion.
  4. Appoint Guardians: If you have minor children, designate guardians for their care.
  5. Be Specific: Clearly detail who gets what to avoid disputes. For example, if you have three children and one piano, specify who will inherit the piano.
  6. Sign and Witness Properly: Your will must be signed by you and witnessed by at least two disinterested parties who are not beneficiaries.
  7. Store Safely: Keep your will in a secure place and inform your executor of its location.

Remember: A will is not a one-time task. Regularly review and update it, especially after major life events like marriage, the birth of a child, or a significant financial change.

What’s the Average Cost of Making a Will?

The cost of creating a will can vary widely:

  • DIY Wills: Free to around $100, depending on the service or kit you use.
  • Simple Attorney-Drafted Wills: Typically range from $250 to $500. This cost can vary based on your location and the complexity of your estate.
  • Complex Wills: If your will involves setting up trusts or detailed estate planning, the cost can increase significantly.

Additional Costs:
Notarization: Some states require notarization, which can add a small fee of $5 to $15.
Updates: Periodically updating your will may incur additional costs.

Smart Tip: Discuss all potential costs upfront with your attorney to avoid surprises. Knowing what to expect can help you budget effectively for your estate planning needs.

By addressing these common questions, we hope to make the process of creating a will clearer and less intimidating. The most important thing is to start planning and ensure your wishes are documented and legally binding.


Creating a will is not a one-time task. Life changes, and so should your will. Regularly reviewing and updating your will ensures it reflects your current wishes and circumstances.

Review and Update

Major life events like marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or significant financial changes are good times to review your will. Even without major changes, consider revisiting your will every few years. This keeps it current and relevant.

OC Elder Law

At OC Elder Law, we understand the importance of a well-crafted will. Our experienced team is here to guide you through each step, ensuring your will is clear, legally binding, and tailored to your needs. We offer a range of estate planning services to help protect your legacy and provide peace of mind.

Learn more about our estate planning services and book a consultation today.

Future Planning

Estate planning is more than just creating a will. It’s about securing your future and that of your loved ones. Consider additional tools like trusts, powers of attorney, and living wills to cover all aspects of your estate. By planning ahead, you can minimize potential conflicts and ensure a smooth transition of your assets.

Remember: The most important step is to start. Protect your legacy by creating a will today and keep it updated as life evolves. Your loved ones will thank you.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure your wishes are honored and your family is protected. For more detailed assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at OC Elder Law. We’re here to help you every step of the way.

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