No matter your age, you should consider the impact if something were to ever happen to you. A will can be life-changing for the family and friends who will have to muddle through without you.

Face it, you need a will

MIAMI - FEB 4: Prince gestures as he performs during half-time for Super Bowl XLI between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts at Dolphin Stadium on February 4, 2007 in Miami.
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Prince's sister and half-siblings have had to sort things out on their own.

Aretha Franklin's four sons are likely to split her assets, though experts have said her death in August could prompt creditors, friends and more distant relatives to make claims on her estate.

Prince had no children or spouse, leaving a sister and half-siblings to sort out things out after his death in 2016.

Even if you're not a celebrity millionaire, you need a will.

You've got assets, and if you die without a will that stuff could be distributed by a stranger (administrator) appointed by the state who will indiscriminately follow state laws.

Think of your loved ones

Senior couple meeting financial adviser for investment
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You need a will so your loved ones aren't left in a legal or financial lurch.

That usually means a surviving spouse receives most assets and any children are next — but the laws vary from one state to another.

If you have stepchildren you love as much as your own, or are separated but not divorced, you need a will to make sure your assets go to your preferred beneficiaries, not simply the people who are most closely connected to you on paper.

Your grieving survivors will be left in a legal and financial lurch if you don't have a will, because they will likely need to hire legal help to get access to whatever assets you may have promised to them.

OK, so you definitely need a will. But how do you get one?

You might DIY

Couple at cafe reading bank contract document
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You can write out your own will, though that may not be the best way to go.

You can scratch out a will of your own on a piece of scrap paper. As long as it meets the rules in your state, it's legally valid.

But wills written by individuals often aren't detailed enough and can wind up being contested by feuding family members.

A personally written will is better than no will at all, but make sure it's signed in the presence of a notary by you and two "disinterested" witnesses. That is, two people who won't be receiving anything from your will.

You're probably better off hiring an estate lawyer or using will-writing software. Online software is far less expensive than an attorney. Just search for "online will" to find options and helpful information.

What to do with your will

Notary's public pen and stamp on testament and last will. Notary public tools
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Make sure any revisions are signed by a notary.

It makes perfect sense that you may not want anyone reading or accessing your will while you're still alive, but remember that you obviously won't be able to tell people where it is once you're gone.

So, store your will in a place that's safe and private, and where it could be found easily, maybe in a safe-deposit box that your family knows about and where all of your other important documents are kept.

Be sure to review your will every few years, particularly if circumstances change: you remarry, a new child enters your life, one of your beneficiaries dies, and so on.

Revise your will as you see fit, and make sure any changes are properly witnessed and notarized. You want to feel confident that your wishes will be followed

About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman

Editor-in-Chief

Doug Whiteman is the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNBC.com and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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