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How to Prepare a Will or Living Trust (And Keep it Secure)

Learn about the four different types of wills and straightforward options to keep your documents safe.

Closeup of a Last Will and Testament.
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They say the only things that are a certainty in life are death and taxes. That being the case, it’s never too early to prepare a last will and testament. You may be single, widowed or divorced. You may be a newlywed, single parent or serving in the military. Regardless of your situation, preparing a will is worth the effort if you want to protect your assets and heirs.

Preparing a will is generally not too expensive or difficult to get right, unless you have complicated assets or are in a very complex family situation. There are four options to consider when creating your will: A living will, living trust, will kit or legal will. While only the legal will mandates hiring a legal professional, some may find peace of mind working with a lawyer for any of the four options.

A Living Will

A living will acts as a statement for end-of-life medical care, in case you become unable to communicate due to illness or accident. There are several apps and websites that can help you create the document with ease and free of charge. If you’re ill, about to undergo surgery, retired, or without any documentation to outline your last wishes, you should consider a living will.

A Living Trust

A living trust is a private document that is mostly effective in taking care of long-term property management. This document works to quickly transfer ownership of some or all of your property to your beneficiaries (the people who are named in your will as recipients) without hassles such as court proceedings or state involvement. The trust represents the details you and your co-trustee (usually a spouse) agree to concerning your assets upon your death, or if you should suffer an inability to function due to poor health. Your spouse either assumes ownership of property and accounts, or distributes assets according to your wishes. You can make your own living trust by following some simple guidelines online or purchasing a do-it-yourself kit for as little as $20. If you seek the assistance of a lawyer, it will likely cost you in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $2,000.

Will Kits

Will kits can be purchased at office supply stores or online. They’re basically template forms, but you need to be sure the kit you purchase is the right one for the specific state you live in. Also, keep in mind that this is a simple will, so it won’t serve business owners or people who have multiple properties, complicated assets, high financial threshold or minor dependents. If you just want peace of mind that your assets are protected and will be distributed in the manner you decide, this is most likely the way to go. Prices for will kits start at about $20.

Legal Wills (or Last Wills)

A legal will/last will essentially declares ‘who will manage your estate after you die.’ It’s a legal document prepared with the advice of an attorney to execute your final wishes about your assets and properties. The actual distribution is put in the hands of the person you decide will follow through with your wishes, or an executor. Unlike the private living trust, a legal will is a public document and is only released upon your death. If you have a complex estate with valuable possessions and properties or a complicated family situation, a legal will is ideal, though you should be aware that the cost varies considerably (from a few hundred to thousands of dollars).

Five Simple Ways To Secure Your Will or Living Trust

Once you have decided which of the above options suits you best, you will want to make sure your document is secure and your executor is aware of the method you choose so they can follow through with your wishes. The following methods will ensure the security of your document: 

  1. If you have a complex estate and use a lawyer, be sure an original copy stays with them. This works well if you expect to retain that lawyer’s firm until the will is needed.
  2. If you don’t want to use a lawyer, some counties allow the County Clerk to file your will. (Keep in mind that some counties will charge you for this service.)
  3. You can save your will to an external drive, CD, an encrypted folder on your computer, or even a cloud drive.
  4. You can also store it in a safety deposit box. Any banking institution will provide you and your executor access when necessary.
  5. Of course, if you want to do it yourself, you can store it in a fireproof or waterproof vault at home.

If you feel responsibility to your spouse, partners or family, have a business you want to continue when you pass on, have property and assets you have specific hopes for after your death, or if you just want to reduce the stress on your heirs and assure their financial future, then be sure you have some sort of secure will in place.

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

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