Every new project has to begin somewhere, and most newcomers to estate planning choose to begin with a will. A will is the most well-known of all estate planning documents, it is generally the simplest and easiest to create (although some wills can be very lengthy and complex), and in most states a will can contain within it instructions for peripheral topics such as guardianship of minor children or the final disposition of your remains.

But everybody knows that the main purpose of a will is usually to dispose of your assets and effects. In its most basic form, a will should include these important parts:

  • The testator’s (creator’s) name and crucial information
  • Nomination of an executor to carry out the wishes of the testator
  • The naming of the beneficiaries
  • Instructions as to how the estate should be distributed to the beneficiaries
  • Signature of the testator and the date signed
  • Signature of witnesses and the date signed

As mentioned above, this is a will in its most basic form, but in fact most wills will also contain instructions for probate, instructions regarding the payment of debts and taxes, the names of any organizations to receive charitable distributions, a mention of relatives who may purposefully NOT have been named, and more.

Because a will can be so basic, many people believe that a will can easily be created on one’s own, without the help of an estate planning professional; in fact, there are plenty of companies who offer “Do It Yourself” will creation software for a fee. However, it is important to understand that while a will itself can be very simple; the federal and state tax and probate laws are rarely so. If you feel your estate is small and your wishes are modest then by all means keep your will short and sweet as well. However, we strongly urge ALL of our readers (even those with small and simple estates) to have an estate planning professional at least review your will and advise you as to its validity before you sign it and tuck it away.