There are many benefits to having a will. Creating one is not difficult since there are many online will services that for a small fee will create one for you using their own template.
Benefits of a Will
By drafting a will, you are able to decide how to distribute your assets and to whom. If you pass without one, then your estate is administered by the probate court according to your state’s laws of intestate succession, which means that your spouse and children will share if you have any. If you wanted to give some of it a charity or friend, or just portions to your children or other beneficiaries, you must have such provisions in your will. Other benefits include:
- Naming a person or persons who will care for your minor children if your spouse predeceased you. Otherwise, the state will appoint a guardian who may not be someone who you like or trust.
- If you die without a will or intestate, the probate process is much longer.
- Estate taxes. If your estate is large enough, estate taxes may drain its value. Having a carefully drawn will can help you validly reduce the size of your estate to avoid or reduce the estate taxes that may be owed.
- You can appoint an executor to wind up your affairs, which includes paying off obligations, cancelling accounts and credit cards, notifying businesses or agencies and paying off taxes.
- Have provisions for making gifts or donating to a charity. You can make gifts up to a certain figure and which are not included in the estate tax calculation.
- You can change your will at any time when circumstances or your intent changes.
Creating a Will
Will are basic testamentary instruments that you can draft on your own and then have an attorney who provides will services, such as a trusts and estates attorney, review for you to ensure it meets your state’s requirements. You can either simply write your own will or go online and follow the instructions provided. Be sure the template is applicable to your state.
If you have a spouse, it is advisable to have separate wills since you will likely not die at the same time and there may be property that is not jointly owned.
You might include the following in your will:
- A provision that you are of sound mind and have the capacity to enter into this will without being under duress or undue influence and that no other person is influencing you in how you wish your property to be distributed.
- List your property and decide to whom you want certain items to pass to or in what proportion. Have a separate paragraph for each item of property listed.
- Name an executor and an alternate in case that person predeceases you or does not want to act as executor. You can name joint executors, name your attorney, or appoint your spouse and attorney to act jointly. You can also list the executor’s powers that a will template for your state should provide. This is typically boiler plate or routine legal language, though you can expand or limit the powers. If you do so, seek the advice of an attorney regarding such changes.
- If you have minor children, state the names of the person or persons whom you wish to care for them. Be sure they are aware of this possibility.
- You will need at least one witness when signing but check your state’s law on how many you need. Your witness should not be a beneficiary. You can create a self-proving affidavit that must be signed in front of a notary so that the witness need not have to appear in court if needed.
- If you wish to create a trust, you can do so by following the instructions from the template provided. Always consult with an attorney who provides will services to ensure the trust you intend to establish is valid and will not jeopardize the recipient’s eligibility for certain public benefits.
- Check to see if your state law requires all signatures to be notarized.
You do not need to list certain items such as life insurance policies, POD accounts (payable on death), retirement or other accounts where beneficiaries are named since these will pass according to the terms of that instrument.
A will should be only part of your overall estate plan and should be updated when major life events or circumstances change.