Several options present themselves when you start thinking about a will. Get an attorney, visit free community-funded legal services or buy a will-in-a-box. The vagaries of estate law are definitely too much for an "instant will" where you just fill-in-the-blanks and frequently are beyond the scope of community based legal services.

Contemplating your own death is not a pleasant thing. Many Americans put off thinking about the hard questions such as who gets everything when the end is reached. The American Bar Association points out that roughtly one-third of the people who die this year will die without a Last Will and Testament. The truth is, after you’re gone, your family will have to take up the same question. Without a will to follow, they will need to make a "best-guess" as to your wishes and desires. By writing, and filing, your will now, you can save those you care about from the aggravation of settling your affairs.


See: American Bar Association

Why a Will is Needed

A will is your legal way of telling everyone to whom you want to leave your possessions. If you die "intestate," without a will, the state will make the decision for you. While state laws vary, your wife and children will receive your assets. Single with no kids? The state will decide who, among your relatives, will get the inheritance. Maybe the state will make the same choices you would — maybe not. Regardless, it’s better to put a plan in place now than to hope a nameless probate judge will guess correctly.

Take Inventory

Create a list of your assets. Be sure to include retirement savings, insurance policies and real estate. Have any items of sentimental value? Be sure to include them in the inventory.

Name an Executor

An executor is the person who will be in charge of the property distribution, file your last tax returns and handle creditor claims. An executor is often a close friend or relative, but legally can be anyone you name. Make sure you select someone whom you can trust and who will handle the job in an organized way.

Name a Guardian

If you have minor children – or even adult children with disabilities – make sure to appoint a guardian in your will. A guardian is simply someone who will raise the child(ren) until they become an adult. Appointing both a primary guardian as well as an alternate will make sure that child care responsibilities aren’t dropped in case your primary guardian dies or becomes disabled and can’t care for your children.

Power of Attorney

Everyone is subject to aging and no one is immune from a health crisis. Giving someone the power of attorney to act as your agent will make sure your financial interest is protected and is conducted in line with your wishes.

A Living Will

Also called an advance medical directive, a living will is simply a statement of what you want — or don’t want — the medical community to do should you become terminally ill and cannot communicate your desires. Most states have laws that define when a living will goes into effect and those statues may limit medical intervention. An advance medical directive is the best way to make sure your voice is heard when it comes to medical care.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

Select a trusted health-care agent and put their name and duties in writing. The person should be able to understand the course of suggested medical treatment your physicians suggest for you, deal with the stress of important and hard decisions and keep your best interests in mind. A trusted family member is usually the perfect person to fill this role.

Seek an Attorney

Unless you’re single, with no children and no possessions, you should seek an attorney for help and advice instead of relying on "legal services." The legal help provided by community legal services can be competent and, in the most basic cases, may be beneficial. However, estate laws and estate planning changes so rapidly it is difficult for someone to give full and adequate attention to your needs. Look at an estate lawyer as a specialist and community legal services as a "general practitioner." There is room at the table for both, but when you need surgery, you want a surgeon and not a clinic.