How to Write a will

Do you have a will? Is it current? Does it reflect where you want everything you own to go? What about minor children? Pets? What happens to them if you die? Who will ensure that your final wishes are carried out?

A lot of questions and some very hard answers. It is understandable why a lot of people put off thinking about their final wishes until another day. Some feel that only the wealthy need to worry about the disposition of their estate.

Everyone has an estate. Your will is one of the most important documents you will sign in your lifetime. If you die without a legal will, a significant portion of your estate will go to the state.

Outlining the disposition of the assets (and liabilities) you have accumulated is the last contact you will have with those who played a significant role in your life. Whether you engage the assistance of a lawyer or complete a pre-printed form available at many stationery outlets, your will is a legal document, recognized and enforced by law.

It is essential that proper names and places be accurate and correctly spelled. Statements should be clearly articulated, their meaning easily understood. A misplaced comma or incorrectly spelled name could confuse or confound the executor/executrix you have appointed to carry out your wishes.

There are nine steps to effectively preparing your will. Consider each one carefully, check facts, dates and spelling. Before you approach a lawyer or a self-directed form, draft your words. Have them read by a trusted colleague or friend. Someone who does not benefit from your will is a prudent choice.


I. You as a Legal Entity

Begin your document by stating that it is the last will and testament of your full name, of your current address, on this date.

II. Final Legal Will.

Note that this document replaces any previous will or testament.

III. Appoint an Executor

Give the name(s) and addresses of one or more Executor(s) or Executrix to carry out your wishes. Check first to ensure the person(s) named are prepared to carry out their responsibilities. This can be a friend, family member, accountant, lawyer, anyone you empower with this task. They can also be beneficiaries under your estate. Choose carefully. Will this person or persons deal with the legalities of processing your request, within the parameters of legal requirements in an effective manner? Probate can be a tedious process.

IV. Disposition of your Estate, Real and Personal

First charge your executor(s) to pay all your debts and liabilities owing at the time of your death.

Then, in simple language, state your wishes. What do you want to do with your estate? How do you want it divided and among whom? Is it going to one person? What happens if that person has predeceased you or does not survive you by thirty days? Where does it go then? Write in contingencies. Be specific. Give full names of your spouse, each child, siblings, and friends. Leave nothing to guesswork.

If you are leaving part or all of your estate to adult children or siblings, where does the money go if they are no longer living? Does it go to their spouse or pass directly to their children following blood lines? Or, does it skip that branch of the family altogether and be divided amongst the remaining living beneficiaries? Tricky decisions and ones not to be taken lightly. By clearly articulating how your estate is to be delegated, you can help to minimize confusion and family disputes when your will is read.

Clearly identify specific articles bequeathed to family, staff, friends, or organizations. If possible include a catalogued picture with identifying marks noted as addendum to your will.

V. Appoint a Guardian/Setting up a Trust

If you have minor children, you may want to appoint a guardian to oversee the management of your bequests to them. You will need to consult your financial and/or legal advisor(s) to ensure that any trust established or guardian agreement entered into is legal and protects the interests of your beneficiaries and reflects your wishes. If you are choosing a friend or relative to act as guardian to minor children, ensure that they are willing and able to assume such responsibility before you name them in your will.

Family trusts are legally binding arrangements that are drawn up by financial and/or legal individuals or institutions to oversee the disposition of the capital and proceeds of your estate for generations to come. This is not a document you can draft yourself. It is however, something you need to give considerable thought to before it is finalized. How and to whom do you want your estate to pass to future generations?

VI. Location of Assets, Financial Records and Business Associates

This is where you explain where and how your financial, legal, business records and documents are stored. Where do you keep your safe deposit box? How is it accessed? What financial institutions do you deal with? Do you have life insurance? Where is the policy? Who is your contact? Who and where is your lawyer, accountant, banker, insurance broker. Who manages your property, cleans your home, does your taxes. This information can save your executor(s) considerable time and protect your assets while your estate is being settled.

Where do you keep your legal documents? Records of financial transactions? Investment certificates? Property deeds? Important keys? Codes to security devices?

List all sources of employment and revenue.

VII. Legal Signatures and Witnesses

Once you have documented all your wishes, identified your assets, directed your executor(s) to appropriate action, your will is ready to be signed, witnessed (names and addresses of two witnesses) and dated.

VIII: Storing Your Will

Most jurisdictions provide a Vital Statistics Registry where you can register your will. If you hire a lawyer to draw up your will, he/she will often agree to keep the original and copies on file. You should keep at least one copy in your personal files and instruct your executor(s) where it is and how to access it (even if you decide to give a copy to each executor/executrix).

IX. Updating Your Will

Review your will at regular intervals to ensure it accurately reflects changes in your financial or legal status. Have minor children reached the age of majority? Is there still a need to appoint a guardian? Have you acquired additional assets, real estate, or other possessions that need to be identified in your will? Have you changed addresses, advisors, institutions?

Signatures to addendums or revisions to your current have to be witnessed. If your life has changed significantly, you may decide a new will is in order. Until any subsequent will is written, signed and witnessed, the previous document is considered your last will and testament.