How I Finally Took Action and Made a Will

Did you ever have a task that you think is so onerous, so complicated, and so monumental that you just…didn’t do it? You didn’t do it, even though you knew that it definitely needed to get done and no one could do it for you? For me, that task was making a will.

Maybe I wasn’t so responsible after all.

A couple of weeks ago I put together an estate planning checklist. I had an ulterior motive: we had been dragging our feet on estate planning for years. When Jon and I got married, we said “Hey, we need to set up wills.” And then we didn’t do it. Life was busy. Our intentions were good, but we never got around to preparing a will.

In 2010, our daughter was born. We said “We really need to set up our wills.” We still didn’t do anything but talk about it. If anything happened to both of us, who would be the guardian? Who would be the executor? We couldn’t decide who to name, and got stalled in the process.

In 2012, my mom died. I was executor of her will. Even though she had prepared and organized everything before her death, I felt overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities to settle her estate. I knew I wanted anyone executing my estate to have as much help as possible. But the one thing that gives the most guidance on how to settle the estate? I hadn’t done it.

We weren’t alone. About 55% of all Americans don’t have wills. For minorities, the numbers are even higher: 74% of Hispanics and 68% of African Americans don’t have wills. Even if you look at the people who really need to have wills, the numbers are surprisingly low. Parents of minors? 50%. Baby boomers? 44%.  Why are the numbers so low? The top reasons most Americans give for not having a will are:

  • Procrastination
  • Belief that a will is not necessary
  • Cost

What Happens Without a Will

Let’s knock out the second item. Dying without a will, or dying intestate, creates all sorts of complications for those you leave behind. Some of your assets will still transfer according to other methods. Jointly held real estate and bank accounts will transfer to the survivor. If you have named life insurance and retirement account beneficiaries, those beneficiaries will inherit. If you have assets under a transfer on death agreement they will still transfer.

Everything else is up to the courts. If you die without a will, you don’t get to decide how your estate is split up. Or who gets to administer your estate. Or what happens to your children. The courts will appoint an administrator of your estate and a guardian for your children (if any). If more than one person applies to be administrator or guardian, then the court will make the decisions. And whoever decides will have to use state laws to determine what happens next.

Your Assets

How will the court decide who gets what? State law governs the process, and your marital and family status determine a lot.

If you are married, it will all go to your spouse, right? WRONG. Okay, if you live in a community property state, your assets will transfer to your spouse. Otherwise, if you have a spouse, but no living children or parents or siblings, then the spouse will likely get your assets.  If you have a spouse and other close relatives, the spouse may have to split your remaining assets with your children or with your parents or your siblings.

If you aren’t married? Then it depends on your family make up. If you have children, it will all go those children. If you have no children, it may go to your parents and/or your siblings. It all depends on the state you live in.

If you are part of a couple and you aren’t married, your partner may get nothing unless you have a will that says otherwise.  Nothing, to someone you may think of as the most important person in your life.

Your Kids

If you have minor children and their other parent is still alive, the kids will probably go to the other parent. If not, the courts will appoint a guardian. Who could be anybody, as long as the court decides that person is the best choice in the interests of the child. The court will also appoint someone to look after the children’s inheritance until they turn 18. The child will receive their share of the inheritance when they turn 18.

How savvy are 18 year olds with money?

So knock that “I don’t need a will” excuse out. Almost everyone needs a will.

No Will = Extra Court Costs + Confusion for the ones you love

No Will = More Hassle + Less Assets for the ones you love.

And they’ll be going through all of this extra hassle while they are grieving for you.

No Will means Extra Court Costs and Confusion for the ones you love

Making a Will

Knowing we needed to make wills was not our problem. I’m not sure cost was either, but let’s address that now. A basic will is not that expensive.  Even if you have a complicated estate that requires a more complicated will, cost shouldn’t be an issue. The will is going to be less expensive than the cost to your heirs of not having a will.

And even a basic no frills will reduces most of the uncertainty and aggravation dying without one creates.

Someday, we may get around to sitting down with a professional and setting up a complicated estate plan. At this point, we just need something official to get our estate planning on the right track. To quote Larry the Cable Guy, we just need to “GitRDone”.

Which brings us to the number one reason most Americans haven’t made a will:  Procrastination.

That was us. We’re healthy, maybe no longer young but not old, and we have safe habits. Even though we don’t have anything forcing a will now, we know we need wills just in case. Jon and I didn’t have a problem with spending the money. We just didn’t do it. We talked about setting up a meeting with a lawyer, or going to see someone at our credit union. But we were all talk and no action, until we took action.

We put together two basic wills on LegalZoom.

Using LegalZoom

Although Jon and I hadn’t made our wills, we had discussed and decided several ideas ahead of time. We knew that we would leave everything to the surviving spouse or to our child. Both of us agreed that if out daughter (who was 5 at the time) would inherit, we’d need her inheritance to be put in trust until she reached adulthood, and that we did not want her to get her inheritance all at once. We knew who we wanted to be executor.

Deciding who would be our child’s guardian if we both died was a little trickier. We both have siblings who were solid choices, and we each wanted Little Bit to end up with our own sibling. Eventually, Jon made the convincing argument.

Once I had answers to the essential will questions, I went onto the LegalZoom website. I used the drop down menu to select Last Will and Testament, then entered our names and the state we live in. I then selected the “mirror will” option, which created wills for both of us with essentially the same provisions.

LegalZoom asked all of the right questions to fill out the simple will we needed. Some of them were easy to answer, some required me to call Jon in for a minute to consult. We were able to give instructions about the trust and distributions for Little Bit, and if we had any specific bequests. The process even made us think about whether we had any instructions for our funerals (not so much).

We had it mailed. to us, complete with instructions. Everything was very clear…all we had to do was get it signed, witnessed and notarized. (Which we did at our credit union, albeit 6 months later. But hey, it’s done now!)

Bottom Line: I Made a Will

So what did making a will cost us? We didn’t pay very much in time or effort to finally getting “Made a Will” scratched off the to-do list.

Total cost: 140.95 (including shipping).  Total time taken: about an hour.

Less money than I might spend on a week’s groceries.

Less time than I might spend goofing off on Facebook on a given day.

$141 and one hour so that if anything happens to me, my husband and my daughter are taken care of. $141 and one hour so that if anything happens to me and my husband, my daughter is taken care of.

Why was I putting that off?

After 10 years of talking, debating, and not taking action, we finally made a will. Actually we made 2. A task I thought of as onerous, complicated and monumental took $141 and one hour. Task completed.

Have you had a task that seemed overwhelming until you just did it? Is there something you are dragging your feet on that you know you need to take care of? 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Origianally published 9/17/2015, republished 8/22/16.

20 thoughts on “How I Finally Took Action and Made a Will

    • Yeah, knowing it’s easy and not so expensive makes it really hard to justify not taking care of it, and LegalZoom is both easy (once you’ve figured out what it is you want to happen) and not particularly expensive. For most people who have relatively straightforward issues, I think it’s a good choice. Certainly, we’d gotten to the point where we felt we just needed to get on it, and the ease and convenience meant we finally took care of it.

      If we decide we need to revise the will, my guess is that it will be to make it more complicated and we may check out our credit union’s services, because they package the will with the health care directive and durable power of attorney.

  1. It’s gotta feel great to have it done, Emily! I’ve always wondered about LegalZoom, but had never heard any first-hand accounts of the experience. It sounds like a good resource.

    My parents are baby boomers and just got their wills last week. My husband and I did ours when our kids were young, about the time we decided to get a decent term life insurance policy. We had very strong preferences on who our children’s guardians would be if we were both to die, so that was actually what pushed us to do it.
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…My Side Hustles: How I’ve Made Money as a Stay At Home MomMy Profile

    • The guardianship is so important and extremely emotional, and as I mentioned, Jon and I didn’t find it easy to reach agreement on it. It took us 5 years!

      Again, if the issues people think are holding them back from making a will are either inconvenience or money, then LegalZoom and similar services address both. If the issue is that they don’t think they need a will, then they should realize what happens without it (the courts step in, which is both inconvenient and expensive). The sheer number of people without wills is pretty scary.

  2. I have to admit that I’ve dragged my feet over making a will as well, but my wife finally took charge and used a similar legal site to create our wills. It does feel good to have it settled, and it’s amazing how many people just put this off indefinitely. Or they have wills, but haven’t had them signed/witnessed/notarized properly for their state. I’m glad you’ve addressed this very important topic!
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Beware of Cash! 9 Reasons to Avoid Using CashMy Profile

    • Oh, yeah, it took us 6 months to go get ours signed, witnessed and notarized. It’s embarrassing, but at least it’s done now.

    • I’m pretty sure they are around.
      Even a handwritten will can work, though there are a lot of rules like no scratch outs. Most people just need something.

    • It was ours as well. Before Little Bit was born we talked about getting one but knew we could wait. After, we started feeling more stressed out (and embarrassed) that we hadn’t gotten it done. But I think the fact that we had to work through the guardian disagreement played its part in the delay.

  3. We used Legal Zoom too! It was fairly easy, but we’re considering hiring a lawyer to help us update our will. If both Rob and I died we would have a pretty big trust, and we want to be sure we have some guardrails in place that would help our kids use the money wisely.

    • If LegalZoom hadn’t allowed us to set some trust provisions (at least as far as the ages Little Bit could inherit different portions) I don’t think we would have done it. It’s just too much responsibility for an 18 or 21 year old to come into a full inheritance.

  4. Its so important to make a Will. Its great to hear that you did it! I try to tell many of my friends who have families to do it. Its worth everything.

    • I think so. It’s an intimidating process before you’ve done it though, and I think that’s one reason people put it off. Like a lot of other things I’ve been reluctant to do, I found it much easier (and less expensive) than I expected.

    • Please do, Faith. It probably is far less of an investment in time and money than you think it is, and hopefully it will give you some piece of mind should anything happen to you.

  5. We had a more complicated will because of all of our properties and because of having kids from different marriages. We did wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies – after years of procrastinating. It was stressful talking about it all, but we definitely had a sense of calm afterward. All together ours cost $425. Well worth saving our kids and family members stress during a time of grief.
    Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions recently posted…When DIY Might Not Be the Smartest Decision!My Profile

    • That’s not a bad price for getting that package and a more complicated will, particularly where you live, Vicki. It’s only about $50 more than we would be charged if we chose to go through our credit union.

      I do think while Legal Zoom is fine for a simple will, it makes more sense to actually meet with an attorney if you have a more complicated estate to protect. As you talked about this week, you need to know which DIY projects are over your head. I think that includes legal paperwork and tax preparation.

    • Definitely something that is important to check. A will is a living document, in the sense that changes in your family may mean you need to make changes in your will. I had to look at ours two months ago to make sure that we didn’t need to make an adjustment when something changed for a family member. It didn’t affect anything we had written, but I feel better for making sure.

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