Wills are a vital legal document that you should have in place as soon as you start accumulating any significant assets. If you die without a will, or intestate, as is the legal term, your assets will be distributed according to state laws by someone appointed by the court. This almost always has unexpected consequences and leaves out a person or organization you wanted to leave something of value to. Whether you are wealthy or not, you should have a will in place.
Still, writing a will is a serious undertaking. Your will can have lasting consequences, which is why you should carefully consider many factors before drafting the document. The following six questions will help you structure your will in an equitable manner. Consider your answers carefully, so you and your attorney can develop a will to best serve your needs and wishes.
1. What are my assets?
A will that doesn’t account for all assets is useless in avoiding problems in Probate Court. These issues will simply have to be determined by the courts unless you inventory all of your assets and account for them through your will or another legal instrument. To do this, conduct a comprehensive inventory of your financial, digital, and physical assets. These include traditional assets, such as bank accounts, credit cards, investments, retirement funds, real estate, possessions, and cash, but don’t forget about other assets you may own, such as domain names, social media accounts, data, and even frozen embryos.
2. Who do I want to get my assets after I die?
After you’ve identified the assets you have, you need to determine who gets them–and how. It may seem simple enough if you plan to leave everything to a child or spouse, but carefully consider factors that may affect this transfer, such as taxes and state laws. In addition, you may want to assess how the funds will be released to your beneficiaries. A trust, for example, may allow you to avoid estate taxes and ensure the money is turned over to a loved one slowly.
3. How can I take care of assets that can’t be willed?
Of course, not all assets can be taken care of directly in your will. Joint property will be transferred to surviving owners regardless of your directives. In addition, assets like IRAs, life insurance, and annuities with beneficiary designations will supercede the will. When you write up your will, you will need to address such assets and reassess whether or not they serve your wishes.
4. Who will carry out my wishes?
In a will, you’ll need to name an executor to carry out what was dictated in the will. This is a decision you shouldn’t take lightly. Often a third party, such as a professional fiduciary, is chosen, so that emotions don’t make the responsibility more difficult. Other people choose a beneficiary to avoid having a fee taken out of the estate. Make sure that you choose someone you trust and who knows your wishes well, as well as someone who legally fits the requirements of an executor under state law. Often, the executor may need to be a resident of the same state, which means you’ll need to choose someone who lives nearby.
5. Who do I want to trust with the responsibility of my minor children?
If your children are still minors, it’s important to name a guardian and a trustee for their estate, so that they are taken care of according to your wishes. Make sure to consult with a potential guardian to ensure they are prepared to take on the responsibility. Always carefully consider whether the named guardian is up to the task, and prepare to readjust the needs of a guardianship as your children grow.
6. Is this will compatible with other estate planning instruments?
All instruments you use for estate planning, including your will, must be in sync, or you risk battles and problems in Probate Court. Consulting with an estate planning attorney to discuss your options can help ensure that you keep everything compatible. Don’t risk having your will invalidated and your wishes thrown out simply because these instruments conflict.
Answering these questions will help you to make the best possible decisions for your will. Make sure to be honest with yourself and really consider the consequences. Then consult with a wills lawyer to draft the document to serve your goals as efficiently and effectively as possible.