Money·3 min read

If You Haven’t Created Your Will Yet, Here’s Where to Start

accessibility, family reviewing paperwork
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
June 16, 2022

As the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” So if you have assets that’ll be left behind when you’re deceased, it’s probably a good idea to get started on your will sooner rather than later. You’ll have to follow a few steps to get it done. But they aren’t as complicated as you think. And the peace of mind you’ll have once it’s complete is totally worth it.

What is a will?

It’s a legal document that tells others how to distribute your assets when you’re deceased. It can include things like guardians for your pets, or who gets your favorite heirlooms.

OK. Now tell me how to write a will.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to get started.

Find an estate planning attorney.

Yes, you have the option to DIY your will through companies like LegalZoom and Fabric. But finances can get complicated, which is why it’s a good idea to work with an estate planning attorney to write a will. Costs can range from $300 to $1,000 depending on how hairy things get.

List your beneficiaries.

Because what’s listed on your accounts, life insurance policies, and your house determines where your money goes. Psst…the beneficiary list on your accounts trumps your will. So remember to keep your picks up to date.

Choose your executor.

Aka the person who makes sure what’s written in the will actually happens. It should be someone who is detail-oriented and responsible. If you can’t think of anyone you know who fits the bill, an attorney is always an option.

Think about a guardian.

Hi, parents. If you have minor children or pets, you should choose a guardian for them. Just in case.

Pause. Do I need a will?

You might’ve heard they’re only for wealthy people. Not true. Everyone should have one, even if they don’t have complicated assets. Because a will is the only way to control where your assets go. And it helps make the process run smoother for grieving relatives. Without it, your assets are distributed by the courts and could end up in the wrong hands. Think: estranged relatives.

Got it. What should I do after I find an executor?

Once you get through the first steps, it’s time to…

Iron out the details.

Carve out some time to decide which assets need to be included. And who should get what.

Write your last words.

Anything you want to explain in more detail? Time to write your explanatory letter. Some people also use this opportunity to say a formal goodbye.

Make it official.

You’ll need to sign your will with a witness. Be sure to research your state’s laws. Because if this part isn’t done correctly, your will could be considered invalid. In some states, the witness must be over 18, with no inheritance from the will.

Find a safe place.

Let someone you trust know where you’ll keep your will. Hint: Consider putting a copy in a safe deposit box. And consistently update and review it. Because things change.


Wills aren’t only for wealthy people. Dividing an estate can get complicated when a relative passes away. So DIY might not be the best way to go. 

Subscribe to Skimm Money

Your source for the biggest financial headlines and trends, and how they affect your wallet.