Creating a will requires you to make some tough decisions you probably don’t want to think about. But it’s important to lay out your plans in writing so loved ones—and the courts—know how to distribute your assets and enact your wishes after you pass away. If you’re not sure where to even start with having a will created, or want to revisit what you’ve already done, you’re in the right place. We’re going to walk through the basics of getting this important document in place before it’s too late.
Before you do anything else, it’s smart to designate a time to sit down without distraction and make a few lists. First, write down whom you feel are your most trusted family and friends. These are people you wouldn’t think twice about letting handle your money, property, or even the future of your children. Secondly, note any charitable organizations or non-profits you may wish to gift with support after you’re gone. And finally, make a list of all your assets and debts. This list might include:
- Bank accounts
- Retirement savings or pension plans
- Personal or professional debts owed
- Real estate property
- Personal property such as vehicles, jewelry, heirlooms
- Any items you wish to gift to specific people
- Life insurance policies
Using your lists, it’s now time to make some important decisions regarding your assets and any children you may have under the age of 18. A good place to start is with your list of trusted family and friends. There are several key roles that you need to designate in your will:
- Executor—to see that your written wishes are carried out
- Guardians—to care for any children under the age of 18
- Trust protectors—to manage money for minors and young adult children
Next, let’s take a look at your assets and decide who will receive what. Keep in mind, joint property will automatically go to your spouse if you’re married. Also, accounts with named beneficiaries, like life insurance policies and pensions, will go to the beneficiary even if the will states otherwise. In other words, beneficiary designations supersede wills. But you can specify in your will who should get an asset in the case of a deceased beneficiary.
Some wills are very basic, with most all assets and property being left to a spouse or an equally split inheritance among children. However, it’s not uncommon for wills to be specific about asset distribution, such as giving a special piece of jewelry to a granddaughter or the family Bible to the eldest child. For special and detailed requests, your will can include a memorandum of distribution. This document gives you the greatest flexibility and allows you to specify which people will receive individual assets. The memorandum can also designate any special terms or conditions you’d like to set out.
Estate planning can be simple, but not all situations are straightforward. Before you meet with an experienced estate attorney, maximize your time by writing down any questions you might have such as:
- What’s the difference between a will and a trust?
- What’s the best way to maximize my assets and minimize taxes?
- Should I also set up a financial power of attorney?
- I’ve heard of living trusts—do I need one of those?
The right attorney can help you navigate this process easily and should be happy to address any and all questions you have. No matter whom you choose to work with, it’s a good idea to revisit your will at least every five years. Also, if you experience any significant life changes—the birth of a child, the death of a spouse, or retirement, for example—you’ll want to make any related will adjustments as soon as possible. Finally, don’t forget to protect your original will copy in a safe deposit box or a waterproof/fireproof safe at home.
Reaching out to a seasoned estate attorney can save you significant time, stress, and worry. Let us help you take care of your legacy and your loved ones. Contact Stuart Boehning, Estate Planning attorney, at 765.742.9066.
Missed our first post in this series? Read Estate Administration 101: Wills and Trusts
The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is advertising material and is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your situation.