Make Your Will: A Quick Checklist
Here are the few simple steps you need to take.
1. Decide what property to include in your will.
To get started, list your significant assets. Then decide which items should (or must) be left by other methods, outside your will. For more information, see What a Will Won't Do.
Keep in mind that if you're married, each spouse makes a separate will. You can leave only your share of assets you own jointly with your spouse. For more information, see Marriage & Property Ownership: Who Owns What?
2. Decide who will inherit your property.
For most people, it isn't hard to decide who gets what. (But if you are considering leaving your spouse or children out of your will, see Inheritance Rights.) After you make your first choices, don't forget to choose alternate (contingent) beneficiaries, too, in case your first choices don't survive you.
3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
Every will must name someone to serve as executor, to carry out the terms of the will. Be sure that the person you have in mind is willing to serve -- the job shouldn't come as a surprise. For more information, see Executor FAQ.
4. Choose a guardian for your children.
If your children are under 18, decide who you want to raise them in the very unlikely event that you and their other parent can't. For more information, see Guardianship for Your Children.
5. Choose someone to manage children's property.
If you leave property to children or young adults, you should choose an adult to manage whatever they inherit. To give that person authority over the child's inheritance, you can make him or her a property guardian, a property custodian under a law called the UTMA, or a trustee. For more information, see Leaving an Inheritance for Children.
After making your will, you'll need to sign it in the presence of at least two witnesses. If you're using a document called a "self-proving affidavit" with your will (to make things simpler when the will goes through probate court after your death), your signature must be notarized as well. Full instructions are included with Nolo's Online Will and Quicken WillMaker software.
Tell your executor where your will is and how to get access to it when the time comes.
To learn more about making a will -- and to see everything Nolo has to offer when it comes to planning your estate -- visit our Wills, Trusts & Estates Center.