Any estate plan whether its foundation is a simple will or is trust based should be a well-written document that describes how you’d like your property to be distributed after you pass away. If you've been procrastinating on completing the task, here's your opportunity to cross it off your list. You can get going with these simple steps.
- Do-it-yourself? Only if you want a fool for a client! Sure, you can use online software to help you write your will. However, there are many horror stories of people who wrote their own wills with financially devastating consequences. Consider the late Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. Wouldn’t you think he, of all people, could write a will? Nope, His will was just 450 words and had a ton of errors. His family spent a fortune in legal fees and more than $450,000 in taxes to collect their assets. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she will know how to help you efficiently and effectively.
- Beneficiaries. When you pass away, your beneficiaries will receive your assets. Be sure that this list is up-to-date.
- Trustee or Executor. This individual will make sure the wishes in your will are carried out. Select a person who’s responsible.
- Guardian. If you have minor children, you need to designate a friend or family member as a guardian.
- Be specific. Don’t be vague in your trust or will and think everyone will know what you want. If you leave your will open to interpretation, it may end up in court.
- Be realistic. Even if you want to distribute your assets fairly, it still isn't easy. It’s best to talk to your heirs about your assets. Tell them that if they have their eye on anything other than house and cars, to let you know so you can write that down and make sure they get it when you die. This gives them some input.
- Attach a letter of intent to the trust or will. It’s okay to attach a personal letter to the trust or will, as a way to say goodbye and make your wishes clear and personal. There is no such thing as the Hollywood-style “reading of the will” so if there is a more personal comment
- Witnesses. Be sure you have the witnesses required to sign your will. They can't be people who stand to inherit anything in the will. Witnesses also need to be at least 18 years old, and ideally, they'll be people who are likely to be around after you’re gone. That’s because if something’s amiss, and your will is contested in court, the judge may want to call a witness to testify.
- Keep your will safe. Be sure that someone you trust knows the location of your will, as well as any other important papers and passwords to financial institutions. Keep the original copy somewhere secure.
- Review and update your will. After drawing up your will, you'll want to update it, especially after any major life event, like a marriage, divorce or a birth.
Reference: US News & World Report (June 19, 2018) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”