Aug. 17, 2022

28: Preparing for Writing Your Will

28: Preparing for Writing Your Will

We all know we should write a will, but how do you get started? Here are some tips on what to prepare that will make it easier and will save you time and money when you sit down to write your own will.

We all know we should write a will, but how do you get started? Here are some tips on what to prepare that will make it easier and will save you time and money when you sit down to write your own will.


August is National Make-a-Will Month! Who declared this? I have no idea. But it sure is a good thing to talk about. In today’s episode, I’ll go over who needs a will and share a few tips on how to prepare to write one.



Hello, and welcome to Dying Kindness, the podcast for people who are going to die someday. I'm Cianna Stewart, and I'm going to die someday. I've cared for people as they died and have supported grieving friends, both emotionally and practically. I've seen the impact that death has on the people left behind and how much worse that experience is when the grief is complicated by having to deal with a messy, legal, financial, or physical aftermath. I don't want to do that to the people I love when I eventually die. And I don't want you to either, because (spoiler alert) you are going to die someday, too. So let's all do what we can to make key decisions now in order to be kinder to the people we'll leave behind. That's a dying kindness.

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Here’s the thing about wills: We all know that we’re supposed to have one, and yet most of us won’t write one before we die. Why don’t we do it? Maybe because we don’t like thinking about our own deaths. Maybe because it seems weird to think about dividing up our stuff. Maybe because we feel like saying who gets what starts to feel like saying we like one person more than another and that just gets really uncomfortable really fast. Or maybe we just think we have lots of time before we have to think about it.

Do any of those resonate with you? I’m guessing that probably at least one of them does. Maybe all of them.

But here’s the thing about dying without a will: It really sucks for everyone left behind. Dying without a will means that a probate court will be deciding what happens with everything you own. The court decides who inherits what depending on legally recognized relationships. And the process of anyone getting anything is going to be harder, take longer, and be more expensive.

And that, my friends, is not a kind way to treat your loved ones.

But I shouldn’t say that. If you haven’t done your will yet, you probably already feel guilty enough about that. So let me tell you something that will help you: Doing a will is actually really simple. So simple, in fact, that there are several services online to help you get it done for free. And you could probably do it in less than an hour, especially if you just pull together some key stuff in advance. Even if you decide you should work with a lawyer, doing a little prep will help you save time which will help you save money when it comes to lawyers fees.

Also, instead of thinking about some far-off timeline, draw up your will as if you might die sometime in the next five years. It can be emotionally hard to think that way, but it does help clarify what you own and who you might want to give that to. So that can actually help simplify this process and help you get through it.

So in a minute I’m going to tell you some things to pull together to prepare for writing your will. You can take your own notes now, or you can get the transcript of this episode at While you’re there, if you want to say thanks for the stuff I’m doing here, you can buy me a coffee or join my Patreon by clicking “Support the Show.”

OK, was that enough time for you to get a pen and paper or pull out your phone or whatever you use for notes? Cool.

It’s not a long list of things, but still. It’s helpful to do this in advance of trying to sit down and actually write the will.

You’re going to create lists that fall into two categories: your estate and your beneficiaries. Those words mean specific things in a legal context, so let me take a moment to define them.

First: Estate. I confess that before I started all this, I thought the word estate only applied to people with a lot of money. Like a lot lot of money. Like people with mansions with circular driveways like Bruce Wayne kind of money. I was wrong. Every one of us has an estate in the legal sense. The word simply means “everything that you own.” 

Obviously that means your estate includes any bank accounts or property you might own. But even if you don’t own property, your estate could include things like your jewelry, your computer, your sneaker collection, your cameras, your fly fishing equipment, even your childhood toys that live in storage. It also includes any intellectual property you own like rights to the book you wrote or the music you’ve recorded or the apps you’re selling on Google Play. It also includes any ownership you have in any companies, including your investment accounts. It even includes all those things in your house that you’d have a hard time unloading at a garage sale.

All those things added together (plus more) are your estate. So the first thing you should do is make a list of your assets. You don’t have to do every single thing, but write down the things that have significant value, whether that value is monetary, sentimental to someone you love, or societal. There are also things that have re-use value, but don’t worry so much about that right now. 

Quick aside: I did an entire episode about these categories of value. Check out  episode 4 for more about the value of physical stuff.

OK, so that’s the first thing for you to prepare: your list of assets.

Next, you want to think about you beneficiaries, meaning those who will inherit something from you after you die. The most traditional and legally recognized beneficiaries are your spouse and your children, if you have those. If you don’t, then the law goes through a whole list of people in a particular order based on them being related to you by blood or marriage or adoption.

Now, if you had people you cared about who are not related by blood or marriage or adoption, they wouldn’t be included unless you write them into your will. Same goes for if there are any causes or institutions that you want to leave money for after you’re gone.

At this stage you don’t need to figure out exactly who gets what, you just need to create a list of people and organizations that you might want to benefit. Sure, you know who you want to include, but if you were to get emotional or overwhelmed while you were writing your will, you might forget someone and that would be a drag. It’s a little like doing an acceptance speech after getting an award – it’s safer to write down in advance who you want to thank so you don’t leave anyone out by accident. 

You should also write a list of any dependents that will need to be provided for. For your pets, you can specify who you want to take them. For your kids, well… kids are not property so technically you can’t assign someone else to become their legal guardians. The court will have to do that. In your will you can say who you want to do this and usually the court will follow your direction, but it’s a whole thing. You should definitely talk with a lawyer about all that. In addition to naming who you’d want as a guardian, take a moment to think about what kind of financial or other support they’d need and what you could do to cover that.

Lastly, (but often most dramatically in movies and TV), if you do have someone that you want to exclude from being a beneficiary, you should note that. In your will, you might want to say why or at least note that this was a conscious decision. That way if your will were to get contested, it’s more clear that you didn’t just overlook them by accident and forget to include them.

So once you have a list of your assets and a list of your potential beneficiaries, you can think about how you might want to divide things. I suggest you start by naming specific things that you want to go to specific people or organizations. After that, you should include something like “the remainder will be divided with 50% going to [so-and-so] and 25% each to [so-and-so and so-and-so]” or whatever. Including some kind of catch-all for the remainder is good because you’re never going to list everything in your will. 

And that, my friends, is really all I think you need to do to prepare for writing your will. Next time I’ll go into who might want to do a trust instead of a will, but even if you decide to do a trust, you’ll still need this same information so it’s not a wasted effort.

To recap: 

  • Everyone should do a will, and you should write it assuming that you  might die sometime in the next five years.
  • To prepare, create two lists: A list of your assets and a list of your beneficiaries.
  • If there are specific things that you want to go to specific people or organizations, write that down.

Once you’ve done that preparation, then you can do a DIY will by using an online service. I am not going to name one here because I don’t know which would work best for your situation. But there are several out there and some of them are free if your estate is small and your situation is simple.

And if you have a lot of assets or a complicated situation, I suggest you talk with an estate lawyer to make sure that everything gets handled right. It’s worth it for the peace of mind.

I hope you do get a will done. Maybe even now during make-a-will month! Whenever you get it done, you’ll know that you’re doing a kindness for your loved ones and they’re going to thank you for it.



Thank you for joining me today. If you know someone who could benefit from this episode, please share it with them. The transcript and other resources are available at The music is by Blue Dot Sessions, and everything else was done by me. I'm Cianna Stewart, and I'm going to die someday - but hopefully not before: I get to hike through a slot canyon in the Southwest.

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Today’s death reading is “Death” by Bill Knott, from The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy edited by John Brehm


Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.

They will place my hands like this.

It will look as though I am flying into myself.