topic | life planning - legacy

Step 6: what everyone should know about wills . . .

A Will is critical to an estate plan. It is never too early to have a basic Will in place. Since a Will is only executed upon death, it can be modified at any time during a person's life.

With no Will, a person is saying "I will let the legislature of state in which I reside determine who will manage my estate, where my assets will go, and who will take responsibility for the care of my dependent children".

State laws and individual circumstances vary. There is no standard, legally foolproof Will. A basic Will should include:

  • A statement that this Will revokes any previous Wills;
  • A division of assets after payment of debts, taxes, and funeral costs;
  • Designation of a personal representative/executor;
  • A notarized signature; and
  • Notarized affidavits from witnesses attesting mental fitness.

There are numerous on-line offerings for creating a simple Will. These offerings claim to be satisfactory in one's early years when there are few estate assets. However, it is strongly suggested that professional assistance from an estate attorney be engaged if one has dependents, more assets, or a complex situation.

Best Practices

Educate yourself about Wills. Then write down and organize your personal information and wishes and take this information to an estate attorney.

Estate attorneys are critical to providing state-specific probate and tax avoidance advice. An estate attorney should be used for tasks such as:

  • Designating guardianship for any dependents;
  • Tax minimization;
  • Addressing more complex distribution of the estate assets such as probated and non-probated personal items;
  • Addressing inclusion/exclusion of asset distribution to children, including those from a previous marriage;
  • Reducing/avoiding disputes between potential heirs;
  • Continuing the 'legacy' wishes such as support for charities and foundations; and/or
  • Minimizing risk that a Will might be contested.

Once a Will is created, it is important for key individuals, such as the executor/ personal representative and the spouse, to know its location. (Selection of an executor/personal representative will be covered in the next step.) The form Important Documents may be helpful in recording the location of the Will. The form Legal Contacts is available to store information regarding the estate attorney who constructed the Will.

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