A woman writing in her notebook preparing her will.

10 minute read

Will Preparation - Checklist for Making a Will

Ready to protect your family by starting your Estate Plan? Use our easy to follow Will preparation checklist to get started.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

It’s not uncommon for Will preparation to feel like a daunting task when you first approach it. But writing a Will is an important, necessary part of every Estate Plan. When you have an effective Will in place, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve set up your family and loved ones with the protection they need when they’ll need it most - when you’re no longer there to protect them yourself. 

If you’re experiencing any anxiety or dread over writing your Will, we’re here to walk you through the process. Our preparing a Will checklist is the ultimate guide you need to get your Will written.

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Ultimate Will Preparation Checklist 

Contrary to popular belief, Estate Plans and Wills aren’t just for the very wealthy or elderly. The truth is, if any of these describe you, you should have a Will: 

  • You’re over the age of 18

  • You own a home or any other property

  • You have a career

  • You have any savings or investments

  • You have children or other dependents

If you fall into any of the above categories, regardless of your age or state in life, you need to write your Will. Without proper Estate Planning, you’re essentially allowing the courts to make all the decisions about your interests after you pass away. But don’t worry...it's easy to create a Will with trusted, verified services like those Trust & Will offers. In fact, you probably already know almost everything you'll need to complete the process in minutes. We think that’s worth it, considering the peace of mind you’re bound to have knowing you’ve done what you need to protect your family, loved ones and legacy. 

You can create your Will in just about 8 steps. 

  1. Layout your assets and think about final wishes

  2. Consider your digital assets 

  3. Gather documents needed for Will preparation 

  4. Choose your Executor and Beneficiaries 

  5. Nominate guardians 

  6. Sign your Will

  7. Store your Will

  8. Update or amend your Will as needed

1. Lay out Your Assets & Think About Final Wishes    

Gathering a list of all your assets and thinking about your final wishes are the first steps to take. Once you have these, you’ll be ready to move on. 

Assets can include: 

  • Real estate or property

  • Intangible personal property like a business, stocks or bonds

  • Intellectual property like patents, copyrights or royalties

  • Cash in savings or checking accounts or in money markets

  • Valuables like collectables, cars, jewelry or family heirlooms, artwork, etc.

Once you identify your assets, make your intentions as detailed as possible. Your directions should be crystal clear, using the names of both your assets as well as the specific names of the person or people you want to receive them. This makes it more likely that your wishes will be honored as you intend. 

It’s also a good idea to identify your final wishes in your Will. Grieving family members will appreciate not having to wonder about the best way to pay tribute to your life. When you plan in advance what you’d like your funeral or memorial and burial to look like, you’re lifting a huge weight off your friends and family.   

2. Consider Your Digital Assets

We live in a digital age, so it makes sense that digital Estate Planning is becoming increasingly more popular (not to mention, necessary). A digital Estate Plan is exactly what it sounds like - the plan to handle all your digital assets after your passing. 

Digital assets are any of the electronic accounts or programs that you log into and/or use online or on a computer, laptop, mobile device or tablet. These assets can range from email accounts to social media accounts to online bank accounts to photo sites, and much more. 

Note that while the online access of a banking or investment account would be considered a digital asset, the actual funds inside them would not. 

To adequately prepare your digital Estate Plan, follow these basic steps:

  • Create an inventory of your digital assets

  • Determine where you want them to go upon your passing

  • Appoint a Digital Executor

  • Make sure your digital Estate Plan is legally binding - be sure to note in your Will that you have a digital plan to ensure it’s recognized

You should have an exhaustive list of all of your digital accounts along with someone appointed to manage them in the event you can no longer do so yourself.

You can find detailed answers to all your questions about Digital Estate Planning if you want more information. 

3. Gather Documents Needed for Will Preparation    

You actually don’t need to do very much to prepare to write your Will. It can be very quick and easy to start. Getting the following information together before you begin will help you breeze through the process:

  • Birth and/or death certificates

  • Marriage licenses and/or divorce certificates

  • Deed(s) to property

  • Mortgage(s) information

  • Insurance policy information - be sure you have beneficiaries designated and current on each insurance policy

  • List of all bank accounts - institutions and account numbers

  • Investment portfolio - account numbers  

  • Funeral plans and burial plot information

  • Names/phone numbers/emails/firms/addresses for your: 

    • Lawyer

    • Insurance agent

    • CPA or accountant

    • Banker

    • Financial advisor

4. Choose Your Executor & Beneficiaries

  • Executor: The Executor of your Will is the person you name who will be responsible for settling your estate upon your passing. Choose someone trustworthy and capable of handling the financial, legal and moral obligations required to complete the process. Note that you can also name a Co-Executor, and many people choose to name an alternate in case their original is unable or unwilling to take on the task.

  • Beneficiaries: The beneficiaries you name are those who will benefit from your estate. They will inherit money, property, valuables and other belongings per your wishes as outlined in your Will and other Estate Plans. Remember that the more specific you are, the better the chance your estate will be settled as you envision.

5. Nominate Guardians

The process of establishing guardianship for your children, minor or adult dependents, and even your pets may be the most important (and often the most difficult) part of the Will preparation process. We never want to think about not being there for those who need us most, but to protect them, it’s well worth the discomfort. 

6. Sign Your Will  

Make sure you properly finalize your Will with the correct number of signatures your state mandates. Many states require two witnesses and a notary, but requirements can slightly vary from state to state, so be sure you understand the requirements specific to the state you’re signing in. Below are just a few examples of different state laws to finalize a Will:

  • Requirements to finalize a Will in Arizona: To finalize a Will in Arizona, you must sign in front of two witnesses. Your witnesses will also need to sign, but they don’t need to do so immediately. State law in Arizona says your witnesses must sign “within a reasonable period of time” after you’ve signed. You won’t need to have a Will notarized there, unless you want to make it what’s known as “self-proving,” which can speed up the probate process considerably.

  • Requirements to finalize a Will in California: A Will in California needs to be signed in front of two witnesses who, like Arizona, are both present at the same time during the signing. The witnesses then also need to sign the Will, but unlike Arizona, witnesses in California must sign at the same time you do, and at the same time as one another. You do not need to have a Will notarized in California, and a Will there can be self-proving without a notary as well.

Whenever possible, it’s always a good idea to let anyone who is mentioned in your Will know that they are a part of your Estate Plan in some capacity.

Note - your witnesses should not be beneficiaries to any part of your Will

7. Store Your Will

Congratulations! You’ve officially written your Will. Now, you should think about how and where to store it. You have a few options when it comes to storing your Will and other estate documents. 

  • Safety deposit box - You should know that there is a downside to this option - safety deposit boxes can be hard for your loved ones to access after you pass away.

  • Fireproof safe - A fireproof safe is a common and easy solution that protects and preserves your important financial and estate documents.

  • Legacy Drawer - Coined by Dave Ramsey, a “legacy drawer” is a concept where you keep everything together in one place, so your loved ones have what they need when the time comes. Your legacy drawer doesn’t need to be a literal drawer. It can be in your home, with the person you’ve named Executor or even with your lawyer.

8. Update or Amend Your Will

You should feel good about taking the first step to protect your legacy and loved ones in the future. But just as life changes, your Estate Planning documents will need to be changed at some point, too. We recommend you review (and update if needed) your Will and other Estate Planning documents every three to five years, or after any major life event. Life events that would warrant an update could include: 

  • Marriage or remarriage

  • Divorce 

  • A new inheritance

  • Purchase or sale of large assets or property

  • Having more children

  • Moving out of state

  • Birth of grandchildren

  • Death of a beneficiary or Executor

  • Planning a large international trip

  • Etc 

Do you need a lawyer to make a Will?

In short, no, you absolutely do not need a lawyer to make your Will. That said, legal counsel can offer guidance and advice if you are nervous or have questions about Will preparation for the first time.

Trust & Will makes the process easy and efficient, and all our documents are created by lawyers and professionals familiar with the world of Estate Planning. And, when you work with Trust & Will, you have full access to our experts, so you can get detailed answers to all of your questions. 

We know there are many things to consider when making a Will, so if you have any questions along the way, our real-time chat lets you connect with our team instantly.

Writing your Will is not only important, it’s also incredibly empowering. That’s why we suggest taking just 10 minutes today to start your Will with Trust & Will. We know you’ll feel good knowing that you have safeguarded your legacy.