Anyone can use a last will and testament template to designate who gets their property and assets after they die. A last will and testament are separate from a living will, which provides medical staff with healthcare directives. For instance, you may not want to be put on life support if doctors determine you’ll remain in a vegetative state.
Your property and assets are at risk without a last will and testament. When you die, the state becomes the executor of your estate if you do not have a will in place. This means your relatives could end up fighting about who gets your assets, or they may not be distributed in a way you would’ve liked.
You can create a will through an attorney or use a last will and testament template. However, you’ll need to check with your state’s laws regarding witness signatures. Most states require at least two impartial witnesses, with a few only requiring a notary public to make your will official.
Let’s examine the details of the last will and testament form, how to make your will, and why you should have one.
Last Will and Testament Template
Last Will and Testament By State
What is a Last Will and Testament?
A will and testament stipulate how your estate will distribute your remaining property and assets. For example, you can designate your home will go to your children or a local charity. You can also specify how any money in your checking, retirement, and savings account will be divided up by your relatives.
People who own pets often indicate who will assume ownership of their animals or whether they’ll be surrendered back to a local rescue organization. Parents of minors or wards of the court will also state who will take care of their dependents.
The last will’s document determines who assumes ownership of other property, such as furniture, family heirlooms and keepsakes, books, jewelry, and tech equipment. Anything you own, including savings bonds, should be included in your will.
In addition, you should outline how to pay for your funeral and burial. This could be from a life insurance policy or savings. It helps to set up beneficiaries on your life insurance, pension, and financial accounts ahead of time. This way, the companies that manage those accounts will already have a record of who to distribute your money to after your death.
How to Make Your Last Will and Testament
Consulting an attorney is best practice, whether you want to use a last will and testament template or have someone else create your will. Using a simple will template may seem self-explanatory, but an attorney’s office can guide you through the various terminology.
Although there are some online explanations for these, the laws governing wills can vary between states. Plus, a lawyer can point out things you could easily overlook. That said, you’ll usually need to include the following in your will:
- Your name and address and indication that you’re the one making the will. The person who makes the will is called the testator in the document.
- The date the will took effect. If you had any previous wills or amendments, a new will has to state those are now revoked.
- Who will serve as executor of your will and estate? This is the person who will oversee the execution of your will’s instructions and distribute your assets accordingly.
- The person or persons who will assume guardianship for your dependents.
- A detailed list of your beneficiaries. These are the individuals or entities that will inherit your assets and property.
- Any information about the timing of asset distribution.
- Your signature, plus the signature and addresses of your two witnesses or notary public.
Before you sit down to fill out a free will template or have someone help you, determine who will be your beneficiaries. This will be easier if you only have one child or relative you want to give everything to. Still, it’s a good idea to figure out who will be your backup beneficiary in the event the child or relative passes away before you do.
Make a List of Property, Assets, and Debts
This step is probably one of the most important because it is so easy to forget everything you own. In your asset list, be sure to include the following:
- Any property you own, including vacation homes and any investment or business properties.
- All financial accounts or assets, such as checking, savings, CDs, 401(k)s, IRAs, pensions, savings bonds, and separate stocks or mutual funds.
- Personal property, such as furniture, electronics, books, and collection sets.
- Life insurance policies, including anything you have through a current or previous employer.
For debts, list long-term items like mortgages and loans you’re paying on. You’ll also want to list any recurring credit cards you use, utility companies with account information, and items like home insurance policies. Your estate and executor will be responsible for ensuring your unsecured gets paid.
They may also need to help your beneficiaries transfer secured debt into their name, such as a home with an outstanding mortgage. For secured debts, you’ll also want to include options for your beneficiaries. The beneficiary of your home could have the option to sell the home and inherit the proceeds, or you could designate the home to be put in a trust for certain dependents.
Find and Designate an Executor
This person can be one of your beneficiaries, such as your oldest child or a relative you trust. However, most experts recommend finding an executor who will not receive any of your assets or property. Some people designate their attorney or legal rep as the executor of their estate.
Others ask a good friend who won’t be a beneficiary to do it. Like beneficiaries, you’ll want to find a backup executor in case the person first in line passes away or becomes unable to fulfill their duties. Be sure to discuss your designation with the person before you create your will so there aren’t any surprises. Also, ask them to confirm they’re willing to serve as your executor.
Sign, Store, and Distribute Copies
After you’ve filled out and created your last will and testament, it’s time to get it signed. You’ll sign each copy, and so will your two witnesses or notary public. Then, you’ll want to store a paper and digital copy in your records. Your attorney will also keep copies. Finally, distribute copies to your executor and beneficiaries so they know what to expect.
What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Living Trust?
The main difference between a will and a living trust is timing. While people can use a will and a trust to designate beneficiaries and distribute assets, a will doesn’t take effect until you pass away. A living trust can distribute assets before you pass away, according to a timeline you stipulate.
For example, you might set up separate savings or investment accounts for each of your children. You keep contributing to them until they reach the age of 18. Each account is set up as a trust fund that your children will inherit or have access to once they turn 18. A trust takes effect on the day of creation.
Also, a trust doesn’t list other wishes that your will does. These wishes include who will assume guardianship for your dependents. You can change a living trust at any time, similar to a living will.
What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Living Will?
Unlike a last will and testament template, your living will document dictates your medical care preferences in case you’re not able to make those decisions. Say you get in an accident and become unconscious. A living will says who can make health care decisions for you and states whether you want doctors to do everything they can to sustain your life.
If you become incapacitated, go into a coma, or sustain an injury or illness that requires life support, a living will document specifies how far medical professionals can go. For instance, you may sign a DNR or do not resuscitate directive that tells doctors and nurses not to make attempts to sustain your life if you can’t breathe or eat on your own.
As previously explained, a will does not deal with medical directives or care preferences. It outlines directions for the distribution of your property and assets after you die. A living will with your medical care preferences takes effect when you sign it. You may designate a medical power of attorney in a living will that’s the same person as the executor of your estate.
Frequently Asked Questions
Making a last will and testament can be difficult. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions that may help you along the way.