When it comes to estate planning, it’s commonly accepted by most experts that we should all have at least a Last Will and Testament. The evidence suggests that most of us have apparently not taken that advice to heart. Still, it’s never too late to correct that oversight, so if you haven’t yet created your own will, now’s the time. Of course, we all know that this is easier said than done – and that many people procrastinate simply because they’re unsure about how to get the whole process started. To help you on your way, it’s best to take a step-by-step approach to planning a will.
Decide Whether You Need a Lawyer
The first thing you’ll need to do is decide whether you want to try to create the will on your own, or rely on an attorney. While there are a whole host of DIY options out there for creating wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents, they’re not the best option. The potential for mistakes is just too high, and there’s no way to guarantee that the online form you download will accomplish your goals – much less survive a potential will contest in the courts. To avoid that, get an attorney.
Choose Your Beneficiaries
The main reason to have a will is to ensure that your belongings go to the right people when you die. That means that you need to select your beneficiaries. In most cases, this will be a simple matter, as you focus your attention on your spouse, children, and other close family members and friends. If you have a more complex family structure, however – your wife’s children from a previous marriage or a child born out of wedlock, for example, the selection process can be more complicated. Try to make a list of beneficiaries, so that you can present that to your attorney when the time comes to draft the document.
Inventory Your Assets
When you’re planning to give away your wealth, it might be helpful to know what you have. Take stock of your estate, making an inventory of all your holdings and their value. Don’t forget to include rental properties, art collections, and any accounts that don’t have other means for transferring to new owners when you die. That list can be used by you as you later consider how you want your wealth distributed to all those beneficiaries.
Select an Executor
The selection of an executor can seem like a fairly mundane task, but its importance cannot be overstated. Remember, this is the individual who will end up with the responsibility for ensuring that your last wishes are followed. He or she will be charged with performing a wide variety of tasks related to the settling of your estate – and many of those tasks require skills like record-keeping or some level of legal knowledge. If you’re thinking about naming a close relative for sentimental reasons, but have doubts about that person’s competence, choose someone else. And remember: your executor doesn’t have to be a person. You can also select a bank or law firm to fill that role.
Decide on Compensation
The question of executor compensation is often something that executory decides during the probate process. The law allows an executor to receive compensation, but many – especially when they are close relatives of the deceased – forgo that payment. Of course, if you select a bank or attorney as your executor, there will be a fee for those services. You can also include a provision in the will to ensure that your executor is paid, regardless of whether he seeks compensation.
Make Specific Instructions for Bequests
Make certain that your list of beneficiaries and assets includes notes defining who gets what. List the beneficiary using his or her full name, and detail exactly what you want that heir to receive. Do this for all heirs. If you plan to leave an heir nothing, state that as well. It’s even a good idea to include a reason for the lack of a bequest, since that can help to avoid ambiguity that a disgruntled heir could use to challenge the document when you die.
List Guardians for any Minor Children
Be sure to consider who you want to serve as your children’s guardian, and write that information down in your planning notes too. You should, of course, ask that person if he or she is willing to care for the children, since any refusal on their part could leave the children with a court-appointed guardian. It’s also important to recognize that any guardian could still change his mind and refuse to serve even after you’re gone. To prepare for that eventuality, it’s usually wise to name a series of potential guardians who could perform those duties.
Find an Attorney
Realistically, you can take this step at the beginning or end of your planning effort. It’s often helpful to have these basic decisions figured out before you bring an attorney into the mix, however, since it can save time for everyone involved. Find an attorney with expertise in probate law and experience in will creation. He or she can help to guide you through the entire will creation process, and can ensure that your document contains the provisions it needs to accomplish your legacy goals.
As you can see, the creation of a will doesn’t have to be some mysterious and frightening process. When you approach it in a step-by-step manner, you can more efficiently gather together the information you need to help your attorney draft the will you need to ensure that your loved ones are properly cared for when you’re gone.
At Fouts Law Group, LLC, our probate experts can offer advice when you’re planning a will, and the assistance you need to ensure that it is properly created with all your most important goals in mind. Whether your estate is simple and straightforward or extremely complex, our team can provide the legacy planning help you need to secure your family’s interests. To learn more about how we can help you with your Last Will and Testament, contact us online or give us a call at (404) 596-7520 today.
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