Although contemplating your own death isn’t likely to be on your list of Top 5 Things to Do this Month, planning for the inevitable should be. Creating a Last Will and Testament doesn’t have to be a somber, depressing process. In fact, most people say they feel significantly better after accomplishing this simple, but important task.
Whether you have a sizable estate or a modest income and minimal assets, creating a will can help to ensure that your wishes are carried out if, and when, you die. And these wishes frequently involve more than just determining who gets what property. This is especially true for the parents of young children; a will can identify how those children should be cared for in your absence, and by whom.
A will can be as simple or as complex as necessary. Generally speaking, however, the items below should be included in your will. If you have any questions about how to proceed, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.
Since you will no longer be alive when your will is read and your property distributed, it is essential to choose the person who will ensure that your wishes are carried out as planned. So, choose wisely. This person is known as the executor because he/she executes the requests, plans, and overall objectives stated in your will. In addition to choosing someone who you believe will take this role seriously and look out for your best interests, it is important that your chosen executor is not surprised; have a conversation with the person you’ve chosen to ensure that he/she is up to the task.
Assets and Property
You don’t have to have a substantial estate to have assets to distribute. If you own a modest home, a car, and/or a small retirement account (IRA, 401(k), etc.), you will want to ensure that they are properly distributed. Wills allow you to distribute everything from multi-million dollar properties, expensive jewelry and art collections, to bank accounts, family heirlooms, and cash.
A will is the simplest and most effective way to leave assets and property to your heirs, and the more detailed, the better. For example, if you want to leave different pieces of jewelry to different grandchildren, make sure that your descriptions of each piece are as detailed as possible. Your granddaughter might know exactly what you mean by “the beautiful necklace my first husband gave me,” but the court won’t; this can become a problem if disputes arise over who gets which piece.
To get started, make a list of any assets and property you own, and then decide who will inherit them. In most cases, this is a relatively straightforward process. It can become complicated, however, if you wish to leave your spouse or children out of your will. And regardless of who gets what, it is extremely important to list contingent beneficiaries who will inherit the property if your first choice does not survive you.
“Real property” refers to assets in the form of homes and buildings, rather than retirement accounts, cash, art, jewelry, and the like. Although real property can also be distributed to heirs, the process is often significantly more time consuming and complex. Depending on your situation, and the type and value of real property you will be leaving behind, it may be in your best interest to create a Trust. An experienced estate planning lawyer will be able to advise you on this and other matters.
If you have children under the age of 18, determining guardianship may be your primary reason for creating a will in the first place. Knowing that your children are well cared for if you die brings peace of mind, even if the general idea isn’t exactly pleasant. Unfortunately, when parents die without a will, the laws governing what happens to your children will likely dictate that they go to the closest relative, such as their other parent, or your siblings or parents. In some cases, this strategy will align with your wishes, but exceptions are common. If you are a single parent and do not want your children to go to your own parents or siblings, it is of extreme importance to spell out your exact wishes in a will. Similarly, if both you and your spouse die, it is important to specify to whom your children should go. If you have a verbal agreement with a friend or extended family member, this verbal agreement won’t hold much weight against the objections of the children’s grandparents, for example.
In addition to choosing who will care for your children, a will can also dictate how they should be cared for. You can provide details about your children’s education, medical care, inheritance, and other important aspects of how they should be raised in your absence.
Furthermore, if you leave assets to young children, it’s important to specify which adult should manage this inheritance until they reach a certain age.
Create a Last Will and Testament Today
Few people want to think about the inevitable, but having a professionally-drafted will is the most effective way to ensure that your children are well cared for, your assets are distributed properly, and family disputes over guardianship and who gets what are avoided. If you have questions about how to get started, or you need to update an existing will, contact an estate planning lawyer such as the team at Hoyt & Bryan today.