Besides the loss of life, one of the saddest things about death is when the person’s affairs aren’t in order. That’s why money expert Clark Howard is a big proponent of having a will.
“Don’t make it so hard on the people you love,” Clark says. “If you don’t have a will, the state decides who raises your kids. No, no, no. You want to make those decisions.”
Here’s Why You Need To Create a Will
Not to be confused with a living will (which spells out how you want medical procedures handled), a last will and testament dictates who will inherit your finances and other assets after you die.
Table of Contents:
- Why Don’t People Have Wills?
- What To Know Before You Create a Will
- How To Create a Will Online
- When Should You Update Your Will?
Why Don’t People Have Wills?
A Gallup poll from 2021 reported that only 46% of U.S. adults had a will and that those figures hadn’t changed much since 1990.
Clark says a lot of people don’t have wills because they underestimate its importance.
“The most common answer I hear from people is, ‘I don’t have anything. Why would I do a will?’”
Clark believes that a will is a major way to protect your loved ones and maintain control of you and your family’s financial life.
Protect Loved Ones
Clark says the primary reason you need a will is to protect your loved ones. “You’ve got a kid or two or three or whatever. That’s why you have a will,” he says.
“Imagine the state decides that your nightmare sister or brother, or brother-in-law, or someone, who you say, ‘Oh, glad the family reunion’s over. I don’t have to see that person for so many years,’ they get your kid,” Clark says. “You do that will for your kids.”
Control Your Assets
Clark says you also want to ensure that your assets stay in the family or are given to the appropriate beneficiaries.
And while wills are an important part of this, they aren’t the only thing to consider:
“Beneficiary designations on bank accounts, insurance policies, brokerage accounts and all that, are superior to what’s in a will,” Clark says. “The most common situation with that is when somebody gets a divorce, and they forget that they didn’t make their new significant other, or kids, or spouse, the beneficiary and they pass away and the stuff goes to who? The ex-spouse that you had put as the beneficiary designation. This is stuff to pay attention to.”
What To Know Before You Create a Will
Before you create a will, you’ll need to decide whether you want to use an online tool or hire an attorney.
Is Your Financial Situation Simple? …
“If you don’t have a lot of assets, you can do one of those software wills,” Clark says. “WillMaker is the most popular of all those.”
Here are some popular free and paid options for creating a last will:
- WillMaker: Starting yearly fee of $99.
- LegalZoom.com: Prices start at $89.
- MeetFabric.com: This free option by Gerber allows you to create a will in minutes. (I tried out this one myself.)
- FreeWill.com: Another free and easy option.
“On the other hand, if you have extensive assets or you have a complicated family situation, blended family, anything like that, you need a lawyer to do a will,” Clark says, “and not just any old lawyer, but a lawyer where their specialty of law is wills, estates and trusts.”
In addition to a will, the lawyer may determine that you need a trust. Read our guide on when should you set up a trust.
How To Create a Will Online
Because I have a fairly simple financial situation, I decided to create a will for free. Using MeetFabric, I was able to create an online will in about 5 minutes.
Screenshot via meetfabric.com
To get started, go to meetfabric.com/wills and click on “Get Your Will.”
- Next, you’ll be asked to designate guardians for your children, beneficiaries and bequests of your estate as well as executors for your last will and testament.
- On an online form, fill out your name, address and other information. Alternatively you can also set up a will for your spouse, but this is optional.
- You’ll be asked if you want to email the executor(s) your online will. This is optional.
- You’ll be asked if you want to share a summary of your will to some email contacts that you can name. This is optional as well.
- The next page allows you to state to your loved ones how you’d like your final arrangements to be made at the time of your passing (see image below). MeetFabric says this section cannot be made legally binding.
- After you finish filling out the will, MeetFabric will email you the steps to make it legally binding. One of which being to sign the printed document and have it witnessed by two people and notarized.
Screenshot via meetfabric.com
When Should You Update Your Will?
While it’s common for some people to do an annual checklist that involves estate planning, Clark says that at the very least you should look at updating your will at every significant birthday or milestone in your adult life.
“At the least, every five years – when you turn 35, when you turn 40, when you turn 45 – something like that,” Clark says. “That birthday is when you get that will out and see if you need to make changes.”
If you’re an adult, Clark says creating a will should be a priority, especially if you have kids.
“Depending on your situation, you may need something very simple, that’s pretty inexpensive or you may need something that’s pretty complicated and must be nurtured and managed over time,” Clark says.
With a will, you make it that much easier for your loved ones to take care of necessary business when you’re gone.
“You want to do that because the loved ones you have will be grieving enough over the loss of you, you don’t want to leave a mess behind. Do this right,” he says.
Want more tips on estate planning? Read our guide on how to leave access to your online accounts.