Preparing a will is an essential part of estate planning. Whether you’re young and healthy or your life expectancy is much shorter, you should have a plan for the end of your life. Before you start drafting a will, however, it’s important to understand a few legal matters regarding trust and estate law. Here are 6 important things you need to know about preparing a will.
A will (or “last will and testament”) is a legal document that contains your wishes for your property after your death. It should detail the distribution of your property and assets, as well as your wishes for the care of any minor children. After your death, the court and/or your chosen executor will read your will and ensure that your final wishes are carried out.
If you were to die without having prepared a will, you’ll have died “intestate”. In these cases, your assets, accounts, and property will be handled under intestacy laws of your state. These laws will vary greatly, depending on whether you are single or married and whether or not you have children. If you have no living relatives or spouse, your property will generally go to the state.
Generally speaking, you could prepare your own will. As long as it is written by you and signed by witnesses, it typically won’t be an issue. However, most people are advised to consult with an attorney who specializes in trust & estate litigation. A will is a very important legal document, and you’ll want to be sure it follows statutory requirements in your area. An attorney will also retain a copy of your will, should anything ever happen to yours.
If you are concerned about anyone contesting your last wishes, you’re a business owner, you expect to leave a large amount of assets, or you have children, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney when planning your will. When it comes to people and things you care about, it can’t hurt to be extra careful.
While many people believe that the will is the place to list specific assets and where they should go, it’s not really the case. To avoid disputes and confusion after your death, it’s best to stick to general, larger terms in your will. Then, you can write specifics into a letter, which your will executor will be in charge of reading and dividing after your death.
For example, in your will, you could state that you’d like to divide up ownership of your company evenly among your children. Then, in a letter to your executor, you can state that you’d like to give your prized painting to your eldest daughter.
A good rule of thumb is to review (and potentially update) your will every five years. You’ll also want to revisit your will after any major changes in your life. Some of the biggest changes include getting married, getting divorced, having a child, or buying/selling property (like a home or car).
When writing a will, you’ll want to name an executor, who will be responsible for administering your will after your death. It may be wise to name someone who is not written into your will. Your will should include any beneficiaries, or those who will receive something from your estate. If you have children, you should appoint a guardian, or someone who will be responsible for the care of your children.