Insurance and Finance

A Guide to Creating a Will

By Abi Grise Morgan 8.5.22

Creating a will is important, regardless of the size of your estate. They ensure your belongings are distributed according to your wishes and prevent your next of kin from having to make difficult decisions after your passing. If you die without a will, the Texas court system uses a complex formula to divvy up your remaining assets — and maybe not the way you’d choose for yourself.

A will provides incredible peace of mind, but the prospect of creating your will can be daunting. Luckily, there are multiple ways to simply create a legally binding will for your estate.

Ways to Create a Will

1. Hire a lawyer.
Individuals with more complex estates (i.e., blended families with stepchildren, people with property in different states, business owners, etc.) may want to visit with a local estate attorney, who will provide one-on-one guidance and pen your will for you. This is the most expensive option but having a professional’s eyes on your will can provide you with peace of mind that your wishes are reflected in your will.
Cost: $$$ to $$$$

2. Use a web-based will maker.
Online will creators are great for ensuring you’re checking all the boxes necessary for your individual wishes — no lawyer or even human contact required! Websites like Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker & Trust, Trust & Will, and Rocket Lawyer (to name a few) take you step-by-step through a will template and provide ways to store, edit, and share your will with others.
Cost: $$ to $$$

3. Write it yourself.
The state of Texas considers a will you composed yourself valid with the following requirements:

  • Your will must be in writing and exist in a physical form. Handwritten or printed from your computer is fine. If you choose to handwrite your will, make sure it’s legible and the entire document is in your own handwriting.
  • You must be at least 18 years old, married, or in the military.
  • You must be of sound mind and memory.
  • You must make your will voluntarily and sign your will in the presence of at least two witnesses (who must sign it as well. Note the witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of your will.).
  • You, your witnesses, and your notary (if using) all need to sign and date your will.

Cost: $

What to Include in a Will

The Texas Estates Code provides a comprehensive look at estate planning, but the key elements of a will are summarized here:

1. A statement of intent.
Explicitly state that your will reflects your wishes of what should happen to your estate upon your passing and that any previously composed wills are invalid.

2. Beneficiaries and what they receive.
List the people or organizations you designate to inherit your property or assets after your passing. Be specific about percentages and designate specific belongings if desired. Typical items included in a will are:

  • Bank accounts.
  • Home.
  • Car.
  • Family heirlooms.

3. Guardianship of children.
If your children are under the age of 18, you need to designate someone (or someones) to be their guardian in the event of your passing. Otherwise, the court will decide for you — and they may not make the same choice you’d make. Always speak with this person or persons beforehand to ensure they have the financial, physical, and emotional resources to take on the responsibility of raising your child/children. The same goes for pets.

4. Optional: notarization.
While not required to make a will legally binding, the signature of a notary will speed up the process of moving your will through the probate court. That’s because the court can accept your will without needing to contact your witnesses to verify its validity. The notary needs to sign your will at the same time as your witnesses.

5. Name an executor.
An executor is the person responsible for carrying out your wishes. Choose someone who is organized and a good communicator without a criminal record or a history of financial troubles, such as filing for bankruptcy.

For the sake of simplicity, it’s preferable to have an executor who lives in Texas, because they’ll need to show up to court and/or care for your property should it go through a probate period.

Assuming you trust your executor, note in your will that you want your executor to “serve without bond.” This means they will not have to give money to the court for a bond, which courts usually require to make sure money is not stolen. Doing so will make it easier for them to access and distribute your belongings.

Put the hard copy of your will somewhere safe and easy to find, such as inside a desk or your freezer inside a sandwich bag, and tell your executor where they can find it.

Make Sure Your Wishes Are Honored

With a little research before creating your will, you can have confidence in knowing your will gets executed as you intend. The Texas State Law Library and TexasLawHelp.Org are two excellent resources to answer questions you may have about the particulars of your estate planning.

While you’re on a roll planning for the future, set aside some time to pen your living will, an important and legally binding document stating your wishes for decisions regarding your health care in the event you cannot make them yourself.

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