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Writing your will is a surprising form of self-care, experts say

September 7, 2022, 7:00 PM UTC
Smiling woman writing on paper.
People with a will are twice as likely to feel positive emotions of empowerment and confidence, and three times as likely to feel happiness about obtaining a will when compared to those without.
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After the Highland Park shooting at a Fourth of July parade 30 minutes from my home left a toddler orphaned, I lay awake panicking about what would happen to my daughter in the event my husband or I unexpectedly passed away. I’d been meaning to create a will since she was born last fall, but inevitably it keeps falling to the bottom of my to-do list, which is not uncommon.

According to a recent survey by LegalShield, 54% of American adults do not have a will or trust in place; those that do, however, are twice as likely to feel positive emotions of empowerment and confidence, and three times as likely to feel happiness about obtaining a will when compared to those without. Meanwhile, those without a will were twice as likely to have feelings of uncertainty, sadness, fear, or stress as those with one.

“Most people understand that creating a will is the smart, responsible thing to do, but people often overlook it as an act of self-care,” says Norman Nash of DSK Law, a LegalShield provider law firm. “There is nothing more stress-inducing than contemplating what happens to your family, friends, and assets once you pass away—especially if it’s sudden or untimely.”

In an effort to alleviate that stress, experts suggest creating an estate plan with either a will or trust that outlines exactly what you want to happen when you die. Whereas a last will and testament, more commonly known as a will, is a legal document detailing who receives your property after your death, who will oversee your estate, and who will serve as guardian of your children, a living trust can be implemented while you’re alive to help with estate tax issues and assets for family members. 

If you die without a will or a trust, a court will determine what happens to your assets, a process that can cost your loved ones both time (up to two years) and money (about 3% to 7% of the value of your estate), according to Nash.

As self-care is most effective when it becomes a habit, Nash suggests setting an annual reminder to review your will or trust, make any necessary updates, and ensure everyone who needs to know is aware of the new version. You’ll also want to make updates after any major life event, such as marriage, divorce, birth of children, retirement, purchase of a new home, or death of a loved one.

Although reflecting on your death can be sad to think about, preparing your will doesn’t have to be. To make end-of-life planning less sorrowful, Nash suggests making an event out of it, complete with your favorite takeout, some background music, and an itinerary of what you want to accomplish.

After making a list of all your assets, deciding how you want them to be distributed, naming the beneficiaries, and choosing a guardian for minor children, if applicable, you’ll want to name an executor for your will. When you’re ready, you can meet with a lawyer to write up your will, or select a more cost-effective online service to walk you through the steps if you have a more straightforward estate. Legal requirements vary by state and country, so you’ll want to keep that in mind should you opt for the DIY route. 

Knowing this, I’m giving myself a deadline of the end of the year to at least meet with a legal professional and get the ball rolling with starting a will. I’m looking forward to the peace of mind in knowing our daughter will be taken care of according to our wishes should something happen. 

“Creating a will isn’t just an act of self-care,” says Nash. “It’s an act of care for your loved ones.”