3 minute read

Writing My First Last Will

A Last Will and Testament is not only an estate-planning tool. It’s also a testament to your values and effects the mark you leave on this world and your loved ones.

I’ve been a personal finance writer for nearly a decade, which means I’ve written many articles about the importance of end-of-life planning — but until this past year, I had never taken the time to create my own will. 

Why not? Probably for the same reasons many other people procrastinate on writing a will; I was young, I didn’t own any property, I didn’t have any children, etc. etc. etc. I assumed that if I were to die unexpectedly, my parents would just, you know, figure out what to do with the money in my bank account. That’s what parents are supposed to do, right?

Then, as often happens, my life changed. I fell in love. We bought a house together. I turned 40. I finally had enough assets — financial, real, and digital —  that the question of what to do with them after my death was worth considering. 

So I created an account with Trust & Will and sat down to write my first-ever Last Will and Testament. (Although Trust & Will's simple online will services are designed to be affordable for nearly every household, I should let you know that Trust & Will gave me the opportunity to create my will for free — full disclosure, etc. etc. etc. I should also let you know that “create a will” has been on my to-do list for over a year.)

What I didn’t realize — and what you probably won’t realize until you go through the process yourself — was that I was about to create a document that would serve not only as an end-of-life planning tool, but also as a testament to my values.

Estate Planning According to Your Values and Priorities

The biggest question I had to answer, when writing my own will, was how to divide and distribute my financial assets — the money in my bank account, my investments, and so on. 

I have no children, which means that I wouldn’t be taking the obvious route of leaving my money to my descendants. I also have a term life insurance policy in place to ensure that my partner can continue paying the mortgage on our home if I were to die unexpectedly. More importantly, I have a young nephew whom I care about very much — and whom I suspect would be the person who could benefit most from an inheritance.

In the end, I decided to divide my estate between my partner, my sister’s family and my parents, whom I also named as the executors of my estate. (No, it isn’t an even division — and no, I’m not going to tell you what the percentages are.) When my nephew comes of age, I’ll update my will to make him a unique beneficiary. That way, I’ll be able to leave a financial gift to all of the people who are closest to me — and whom I’ll always want to support, even after I’m gone.

Leave Specific Gifts to the Loved Ones Who Need it

The easiest part of the will creation process was the “specific gifts” section. When my partner and I bought our home together, we moved in not only ourselves but also all of our accumulated furniture, art, books, musical instruments and so on.

Let’s just say we both have very good taste, and that some of the items could be considered valuable (or at least sentimentally valuable).

Dear reader, I left it all to him. All of the tangible property I brought into our home — the annotated Shakespeare, the annotated Pride and Prejudice, the Yamaha Arius YDP-143 digital piano — and all of the equity I had accumulated in our home itself

At some point, probably when my nephew is old enough to be interested in Shakespeare, I may want to update my will and leave a few items to a few other people. On the other hand, if a young relative ever develops a long-standing affection for one of my books or music boxes (in that starry-eyed way that kids do, dreaming of what they might have in their home when they grow up) I might just go ahead and give it to them while we’re both still alive. 

Clarifying Your own Final Arrangements

The hardest part of creating my first Last Will was specifying what I would like to happen to me after I die.

There are a handful of final arrangement scenarios that I would be perfectly happy with. Traditional burial? Great. Cremation? Super. Organ donor? PLEASE TAKE EVERYTHING YOU CAN, I WON’T BE NEEDING IT ANY MORE.

There is, however, one final arrangement scenario that I have secretly wanted for as long as I’ve known it existed: I would like to be turned into a cremation diamond

Technically, multiple cremation diamonds. One for everyone who wants one, set into necklaces or rings or brooches or cufflinks — or embedded into a music box, maybe, or captured inside a paperweight. I haven’t really worked out the specifics, which is why this section of the will was so difficult to write.

What I really need to do — and this is the biggest reason why I haven’t finalized my will yet — is talk to my family and ask them if they would be happy using a small percentage of my estate to pay to have a tiny bit of my ashes used as the initial carbon structure on which to grow a synthetic diamond-like gemstone.

It’s probably the one end-of-life question that none of them will be expecting.

A will allows you to share your plans with others — including a notary public

The last step in my Last Will and Testament — after I get the final arrangements section finalized — is to have my will signed, witnessed and notarized. This means I’ll need to find two witnesses who are not named beneficiaries in the will, as well as a notary public who can affix both their signature and their seal to the document. 

Luckily, I already have an idea of which friends I can ask to be witnesses and I’ve already looked up how to find a notary public in my city. Unfortunately, my state is one of the few states that does not allow online notaries, so this will have to be an in-person excursion — with enough time to take our friends out to dinner afterwards.

I’ll tell them how easy it was to create a will with Trust & Will — the entire process, minus the conversation about final arrangements and the meeting with the notary, took about fifteen minutes — and then I’ll tell them how creating my first Last Will helped me clarify what I wanted not only after my death, but during what I hope will be a long, well-lived life.

Because that’s what happens, when you write a Last Will for the first time. You learn what’s important to you, and then you share what you’ve learned with the people closest to you.

And when your life or your values change — as often happens — you update your will accordingly.