Will preparation is often looked at as some daunting task, maybe it’s the idea of having to think about our mortality. However, it is an important duty and one that will benefit your family if done correctly. There are a few questions you may be asking yourself as it relates to will preparation. I would like to help answer some of them for you.
1. When is the best time to prepare a will?
Will preparation should start today. You may not have anything of value so you may be thinking what’s the point. Most people acquire valuable assets as they get older, a house for example. If you purchased your home today and died shortly after, my logical guess is that your debts and taxes would be paid and what remains would be divided up and distributed to your next of kin.
Now let’s say that your brother never supported you starting your business and you don’t plan to leave him a dime. Without a will, the courts will have to rely on logic and reason during the probate process to determine how you would want your assets distributed. Your parents died and you never married or had children. Therefore, your house and all of your remaining assets will go to him because he is your next of kin. Will preparation will ensure that your assets are distributed the way you want in the event of an untimely death.
Most people think that wealth accumulation is the only reason for needing a will. However, a will is also necessary in the event that you become incapacitated. A living will clearly states who should be your caretaker and handle your affairs on your behalf in this scenario.
2. What should be included in my will preparation?
The executor’s role is to handle the finances of the deceased, that includes paying all debts and taxes and ensuring all remaining assets are properly distributed to the beneficiaries. You can have one or more executors of your will. Having at least two executors will ensure that there are checks and balances during the administration of your estate.
This is the person or people you wish to inherit your assets after your death. You can also have secondary beneficiaries in case your primary beneficiaries die soon after you.
Guardian(s) of Your Children
In a perfect world, parents would pass away after their children were at least 21 years of age, but we all know life doesn’t work that way. In this case, a guardian should be selected. Their duty will be to continue the care of your minor children, if you are no longer capable.
The trustee can also be the guardian or you can appoint a different person altogether to fill this role. The trustee will administer the property or assets for the benefit of the children. You can determine the length of time the trustee shall manage their assets and at what intervals these assets should be transferred to the children.
Who Gets What
Do you remember the brother we spoke about earlier? Not only should you start your will preparation today, you should also be crystal clear on who gets what. Now, let’s look at another hypothetical example to help drive my point home. This example relates to having multiple spouses and children, including step- children:
Let’s say that you and your first husband have children. Last year, you got divorced. Three months ago, you remarried and inherited step children. You passed away suddenly and your second husband receives everything in your estate. You may be thinking upon your husband’s death he will ensure that your children receive everything you worked so hard for. However, he died without a will. Since all of the assets are now apart of his estate, his children inherited it all.
In contrast, let’s say that your spouse does leave a will. He is entirely within his legal right to leave any assets in his estate to whomever he wants. However, your children may not be on that list. I am not saying that you shouldn’t trust your spouse to do the right thing, but why leave it to chance. Instead, you could simply prepare a will that distributes your assets the way you would like. In doing so, you’ve also helped to avoid any animosity that could rear its ugly head after you’re gone.
This is an example that may not take into account the laws of your jurisdiction. Every US state and country has its own guidelines to follow in the event that someone doesn’t leave a will or is vague on who gets what. You should research those guidelines in the state or country you live or consult with a reputable estate attorney in your state or country.
You should have at least two people present to sign the will and observe you signing the will. They must be at least 18 years old and must not be a beneficiary in the will. In some states, you may be required to have more than two witnesses. If your will happens to be contested in court for any reason, your witnesses can be called on to testify.
3. Should the will preparation be done by me or a professional?
First, a DIY ( Do-It -Yourself) will is when a person fills out an online form and prints it out. You may save time and money in the present taking this approach. However, some DIY will forms may not take into account the varying state laws regarding will execution. For example, some states require a certain number of witnesses present at the will’s signing as mentioned previously. In addition, some DIY will forms may not adequately cover your unique circumstances such as avoiding estate tax or blended family arrangements. As a result, it may cost you more time and more money in the future.
If you don’t have any major assets right now or minor children, a Do-It- Yourself form should suffice. However, if you have a complicated estate with more than two beneficiaries , you absolutely need to hire a reputable estate attorney who can help you prepare your will the right way.
4. Where should I store my will?
You should keep your original will in a safe, along with other important documents and passwords for bank accounts etc. Someone you trust should know where it’s located. You should keep a copy as well. How disappointing would it be to create a will and no one knows if you actually did or where to find it.
5. How often should I revise my will?
Life is not static. Your family will grow. Hopefully, your assets will grow. You may experience major life events that will alter how you want your will to be set up, like divorce. I make it a point to put Review My Will on my New Year’s Resolution Checklist. You should review your will as often as necessary and make changes to ensure that it is is in alignment with the outcome you expect.
In conclusion, the old saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” still rings true to this day. I hope that this article highlighted the importance of getting started on preparing your will today. Visit our blog for more content like this!
Reading an article is not enough! Please find a reputable estate attorney in your state or country and ask them these 5 Will Preparation questions. They will be able to give you invaluable insight and guide you through this process. Good Luck!
This article is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, and have not been evaluated by a lawyer for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.