A Will is a legal instrument that simply designates a person to administer your estate after you succumb and which leaves certain items of property to whomever you wish. If you die without a Will, you are considered to have passed away intestate and your state’s laws of intestacy determine who will inherit your estate and in what percentage. The probate court, which oversees your estate’s administration, will also appoint someone to be your executor or administrator.
- Having a Will makes it easier for your heirs and beneficiaries to receive the benefits of your labor. But before you draft one, here are 5 important facts to know:
Wills should be used for passing smaller items of personal property to your heirs and beneficiaries. Real property should be placed in a trust or, if it is jointly owned, will pass to the joint owner in any case. The same is true of any joint accounts or those that have POD designations, or payable-on-death, to whomever you indicate. Items like jewelry, collections, furniture, photographs, musical instruments or property of sentimental value can be bequeathed to whomever you want, which can avoid disputes among family members.
- Name a guardian for your minor children. Of course if you have a spouse, he or she will be the sole parent but if the other parent is not living or has disappeared, this is imperative. If you do not name a guardian, then the court will become involved and someone whom you do not trust or care for could become the custodian. If you do name someone, you might want to discuss this possibility with them first.
- Name an executor and an alternate. Your executor can be a relative or your attorney. The individual need not be financial expert but should be someone who is honest and will work with your attorney and the court to ensure any taxes or outstanding obligations are paid and that the named heirs receive the assets bestowed to them under the Will. In other words, they will abide by their fiduciary obligations.
- Include a health directive or living Will as part of your Will or estate plan. An advanced health directive specifies your wishes as to whether extraordinary measures should be used to prolong your life if you enter into a coma or state or permanent unconsciousness. You can also name someone to make the important or material decisions about your finances and medical treatment if you become incapacitated.
- Be sure to review and update your Will every few years. Families grow or dissipate and possessions accumulate or diminish. You may make new friends, divorce, remarry, have children or friends or relatives to whom you left certain items may no longer be present. Come up with a mechanism to ensure that your Will is reviewed whenever there is a material change in your life circumstances and at least every few years for updates.
One other aspect in creating a Will is to consider having an attorney draft it for you so that you can be sure it is valid. Make arrangements with your attorney to periodically contact you so that it will be reviewed and possibly updated every few years or when circumstances change.