Q&A: How complicated is it to write a will?

QUESTION: How complicated is it to write a will?

ANSWER: Probably less complicated than you think!

I regularly hear, "it's too complicated," as one of the main reasons people haven't written a will. For people with blended families, complicated finances, numerous lengthy and specific property distribution bequests, and/or vast amounts of wealth - yes, it can be complicated.


But for many folks - it doesn't have to be (and generally isn't). Most of my clients really only need to make decisions in following 4-5 main areas in order to get the drafting process for their wills* started:

  1. Specific gifts: do you want to give a certain amounts of money or special items of your property to specific people or institutions when you die?

  2. The rest of your property: after specific gifts are made (if any), who or where should the rest of your property go? This includes tangible things as well as any financial assets subject to probate. (Wondering what "subject to probate means? Learn more here.)

  3. Who will be your Executor? The Executor (also called Personal Representative in some areas) is the person who will have the legal authority and duty to wrap up your affairs and carry out the instructions you provide in your will.

  4. If you have children under age 18:

    • Do you want a testamentary trust? This is what I call a "just in case" trust that is created inside the will document itself. It only takes effect if you die before your youngest child turns 18 and serves as a way to provide for that child (or children) until they become adults. Two main decisions are needed: who do you want to be the Trustee (person in control of the trust finances) and when should the trust terminate?

    • Do you want to nominate a Guardian? In the event both you and your child(ren)'s other legal parent die or become incapacitated before the child(ren) turn 18, this is the person you want the court to appoint as Legal Guardian for the child(ren).

  5. What's your back-up plan for each of the above? In the event the person you've named to get grandad's watch dies before you, where should it go? What about if the person you've named Executor, or Trustee, or Guardian dies before you or is otherwise unable (or unwilling) to take on the role? It's always wise to build a back-up plan into your will.

Believe it or not, if you have a good sense of what you want in the above 4-5 areas, you're ready to get started! Contact me now.

*Your will is a plan that takes legal effect when you die. It directs who (the Executor) should manage the process of wrapping up your affairs and distributing your property. If you die without a will, something called "intestacy," (read more about what that means here and here) takes over. This is a legal process is entirely controlled by the applicable state laws, generally with no wiggle room, and regardless of anything you said to the contrary (of those laws) during your lifetime.