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How to Write a Will (even if you don’t have a lot of money)

Having a will is a GREAT idea—even if you don’t have a lot of money—in fact, especially if you don’t have a lot of money.

That’s because, if you die unexpectedly without naming your heirs, your money is going to get tied up in litigation, and lawyers are expensive. No matter what amount of money you have, some of it’ll be wasted on fees if you don’t have a will. Plus, your family won’t be able to easily access it to, for example, help with funeral costs or medical bills.

Then there’s the potential for in-fighting over your stuff and the burden of figuring out logistics. Do you really want your family to spend time dealing with your finances and assets when they’re still grieving? And who gets your cat? your dog? your goldfish? These are all things that can be easily, and relatively painlessly, figured out with a will.

How to Write Your Own Will

Getting started was overwhelming for me. This WikiHow link was helpful when it came to understanding the terminology I wanted to use in my will—and how wills are written in general.

Some states have a state-provided boiler plate will so Google search with site:.gov and see if you’re one of the lucky ones! I live in Virginia, which doesn’t provide a boiler plate will *sobs. But my state does subscribe to the Uniform International Will Act.

What’s the Uniform International Will Act, you ask? Basically, a bunch of countries got together in the ’70s and said, “Hey, we should have a universal will so that way people moving around a whole bunch don’t die and leave court systems/their families with a lot of headaches.” That’s in layman’s terms. Since we’re getting technical here, this is a write-up on its actual requirements. The act goes a little overkill on signatures, but it’s pretty easy to fill out once you get going.

Now, the Uniform International Will Act isn’t for everyone. Unfortunately, not all states or countries accept the act so if you’re planning on moving, make sure you’re still in accordance! This is a good blog post explaining the act and its other pitfalls.

Because my will is very uncomplicated, I will be using this act. However, the act alone isn’t a will. So you either have to write your own language or borrow from someone else. I used the California boiler plate will because I like it and then I updated it to suit my needs. Here is the finished product for free in a GoogleDoc so you can use it, if you like.

NOTE: The will must be filled out in your own handwriting. NOT on a computer. The will does not have a section that refers specifically to pets, but I made sure to add a line that leaves my cats to a friend who has agreed to take them in should something happen. I would hate for them to end up in a shelter!

How to Write an Advance Medical Directive

While you’re at it, fill out an advance medical directive form (free from AARP) that will tell your family what you want in terms of end of life care, organ donation and pain management.

Make sure to tell your family members where they can find copies of your will and your directive in case of an emergency! And, for extra bonus points, write out a funeral plan and keep it with your directive. It won’t be a legal document, but it will help your family in a BIG way. They won’t have to guess what you would’ve wanted, taking a huge weight off their shoulders.

Yeah, this is all a pain in the behind to think about—not to mention actually follow through on. But, just remember, you’re doing a good thing for your family, and that makes it all worth it.

MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m not a legal expert, and none of this should be taken as legal advice.

Photo Credit: Melinda Gimpel

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