How to create a will in 7 easy steps

Young woman comes up behind her partner to give him a kiss as he works on his laptop

Pop quiz, hotshot. Complete the following sentence: Making a will can be ___.

  1. Fun.
  2. Easy.
  3. Really important.
  4. All of the above.

If you guessed D, congratulations: You just passed the easiest pop quiz of all-time. If you guessed C, though, you’re like a lot of people. You understand that having a will is critical, especially if you have kids and/or extensive assets. And yet, you haven’t made one, because you think it will be hard, time-consuming, confusing and expensive. To be sure, not everyone has a fun, easy experience creating a will, but here’s what you can do to make the process better.

Who needs a will?

In a recent survey conducted by Haven Life, we learned that that nearly half of respondents did not have a will, and 80% of those folks said that was because they hadn’t gotten around to it yet. (Indeed, judging by recent headlines, this is a common scenario. Remember the last celebrity who died without a will? We won’t name names but their assets were probably way more complicated than yours.)

We won’t mince words: Pretty much every adult should have a will. But today making a simple, straightforward will is easier than ever, and can even be accomplished online on sites like Trust & Will, often for an affordable cost. This easy, streamlined service also includes a health care power of attorney and directives.

Just like having a will, pretty much every adult with loved ones needs life insurance. If the unthinkable should happen, the death benefit from a life insurance policy can provide a financial safety net for those who matter most to you.  As an added feature for those who have put life insurance protection into place with a Haven Term policy, the Haven Life Plus rider, included in the Haven Term policy, offers access to a digital will for policyholders and their partner at no cost from Trust & Will – along with access to other services to help policyholders live healthier, fuller and more protected lives. To learn more about how this works, and how you can create a will quickly and easily online, we consulted with Trust & Will’s founder, Daniel Goldstein.

Here’s what you need to know, and how it will all go down.

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Step one: Assess yourself before you wreck yourself

Here’s a fun fact to drop at your next cocktail party: the concept of wills goes back to the year 1540 when the English Parliament passed the Statute of Wills, which let people decide what would happen with their property when they died. Prior to this, the state would decide according to a strict set of laws.

The fundamental purpose of wills hasn’t changed much since then. They remain about one key thing: Your stuff (for our purposes, we’re counting your minor children as “stuff”), and what should happen to it.

A mere five centuries later, you can begin your own will process by asking yourself how complex your estate is. More complicated assets required more complicated, personalized advice, where simple estates can leverage simpler solutions. Luckily, we live in a golden era where one of those simpler solutions includes the ability to create a simple will online.

Step two: Go online

Full disclosure: Haven Life has a relationship with Trust & Will, so obviously we encourage you to give it a try. (Fuller disclosure: This writer used Trust & Will on his own to create his will in about fifteen minutes, and found the experience simple, easy and intuitive. After years of putting it off, I already feel a little bit better about the state of my end-of-life planning.)

The advantages of getting a will online (with Trust & Will or another provider) versus visiting a lawyer boils down to convenience and affordability. Convenience because you can do it on your couch in your underwear (if you so choose). Affordability because online services tend to be much less costly than lawyers’ fees (which vary widely). With some online services, future updates may be free for the first year. It is with Trust & Will.

Some states allow you to write out your will by hand, if you so choose. However, having your will made professionally ensures that it is made according to the laws of your state, and that there are backup copies (either online or with your lawyer). Making out a will by hand is best left to characters in a mystery novel (characters who, we should note, typically die early in the plot).

Step three: Fill out the basics

Once you’re online (or in your lawyer’s office), you’ll need to share the following: Your name. Your address. Your marital status. If you have kids. Even for basics, these are pretty basic.

Step four: Choose guardians for your children (if applicable)

This is where end-of-life planning can get a little complicated. You’ll likely choose your spouse as the primary guardian for your children. After that, you’ll have the opportunity to choose a backup guardian, in case something happens to the both of you. And then a backup to the backup, because you never know.

Whoever you choose, Goldstein recommends that you notify them.

Note that you may also want to name a custodian.  A custodian is not the same as a guardian. If something happens to you, and your child receives the proceeds from your life insurance policy, he or she cannot take possession of the money while still a minor. A custodian manages the money on your child’s behalf until your child reaches the age of majority in your state. One person can serve as both guardian and custodian, or they can be different.

Step five: List your assets

If you have a house, you’ll want to list that here. Include your bank accounts and investment accounts. And that’s really about it.

You should also mention if you have life insurance, as that will become relevant in the event of your passing. (Don’t have insurance? Find out what type of policy might be right for you.)

Step six: Make end-of-life plans

Cremation or burial? Funeral or no ceremony at all? If the former, which version of “Yesterday” do you want played? These are choices you can specify in your will. If you have a spouse, this is an opportunity to talk about where your end-of-life plans intersect (and where they don’t).

And look: If you’re on the younger and healthier end of the spectrum, you likely haven’t given these things a whole lot of thought. That’s ok. You can go with your gut for now, and then update your will later after you’ve given these things more thought.

Step seven: Keep it up-to-date

You get married. You get divorced. You have kids. Little kids become adult kids. You buy a house. You sell a house. You decide you want a different version of “Yesterday” played at your funeral—no, wait…celebration of life.

The point is, life happens, and so your end-of-life planning needs to stay up to date. Set a calendar reminder to check in once a year or so, just to make sure everything in your will reflects your current reality.

All in all, the entire process took me about fifteen minutes (and that includes a brief break to check Twitter). After that, Trust & Will emailed me a copy of my will and dropped a hard copy in the mail. All in all, a pretty great ROI on my time and money. If you’ve been putting off getting a will, consider taking these seven (six, really) simple steps to get yours today.

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Louis Wilson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, both online and in print. He often writes about travel, sports, popular culture, men’s fashion and grooming, and more. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he has developed an unbridled passion for breakfast tacos, with his wife and two children. This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency. Opinions are his own.

Haven Life Insurance Agency does not provide, nor is the information here written or intended as, specific tax or legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC17DTC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. In New York, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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