5 Things to Know About Writing Your Will

Here are five important things to keep in mind as you tackle the uncomfortable thought of your own demise

Lukas Strobl 21 July, 2022 | 12:33AM
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A grim surfer

Mortality is scary. So is the thought of your loved ones squabbling over your assets due to a lack of clarity. Writing a will is the best way to spare your survivors any unnecessary drama at an already difficult time. Besides, it’s reassuring to know what will happen to your belongings. Here are five things about drafting a will that you need to keep in mind.

1. It’s Not Too Early

Many important life events are also good markers for you to think about setting up a will. Your first home purchase is going to tie up a lot of your cash in a less liquid asset. That’s fertile ground for nasty inheritance disputes that could add to the grief of your passing-- better make things clear while you’re still here. Aside from a home purchase, any build-up of significant wealth is a great reason to get started on a will. Even if you’re ok with the state-mandated hierarchy of distribution to your next of kin, without a will, there will be additional administrative burdens, such as the appointment of an executor.

2. Got Married? Get Busy

Getting married is another big change to your personal relationships, and therefore the order in which any inheritance would be distributed. If there are loved ones besides your spouse whom you want to see taken care of, a will is the only way to make sure of that. If you die without leaving a will— a situation beautifully termed ‘intestacy’—then in most jurisdictions all or a large initial amount of your assets will go to your spouse. If you already wrote a will before you got married, then that will may have become invalid, depending on where you live.

3. Don't DIY it

Unless you’re well-versed in legal writing, you should either work with an attorney or an online tool that will translate your intentions into legally-sound text. There’s a wealth of options in most countries, including the US and UK. Formalities matter—in many jurisdictions such as the UK, your will needs to be formally witnessed and signed to make it valid. Consider where to store your will: An attorney will usually do that for you, but if you’ve written it yourself, store it safely and ensure your executor knows where to find it.

4. Be specific

Leave no room for interpretation. This starts with naming people and institutions by their full names and addresses, but also includes accurate descriptions of items you pass on. Lazy wording such as ``jewelry to be distributed equally among my children’’ is dynamite to family relationships as interpretations of each item’s worth will inevitably differ. Instead, precisely describe each item and name the person who should receive it. Categorizing your possessions will make that process easier, and ensure you don’t forget anything important.

5. Name more than one executor

Your will needs to name at least one executor for your estate. That can be a close friend or relative, and it’s alright if they themselves are named among your beneficiaries. The executor’s job is to obtain your written will and to carry out your instructions, with all that entails: selling a property, settling bills and taxes and distributing assets to the beneficiaries you named. In most cases, it’s a good idea to name more than one executor. Relationships change, people die, and you won’t want to constantly update details of your will. One of your executors may just be unable to act on your behalf when the time comes. Besides, the executor’s job is demanding, usually uncompensated, and needs to be done at an already-difficult time for them, so it’s best to split the load.

With this, you’re equipped to start sorting out your affairs. Get on it, and then get back to thinking about pleasant things, like dogs doing the tippy taps.

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The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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About Author

Lukas Strobl  is the editorial manager for EMEA at Morningstar.