Death is inescapable. As morbid as it sounds, we all need to be prepared for it, both on an emotional and physical level. And by physical, we mean taking care of the aspects related to death. This is why we buy life insurance plans and make arrangements for our funeral and burial expenses, and the like. And just like anything else, this matter is not a simple process your loved ones will deal with. One of the ways to make it easy for those we leave behind is to make a will.
Why are Wills necessary?
Any person who dies, and who does not have a will, will die intestate. This means that all of your possessions will be divided as set by the law. So if there are certain aspects or assets of your life that do not fall under this, you may not be protected. For instance, if you are not married to your partner, then your partner will not get any share and will have no say over your estate. If you are separated, but never filed for divorce, then your spouse will still get what is dictated by the law. The addition of children, biological or not, will also complicate matters. Your Will will eliminate the complication as what you say in your will is the basis of how your estate will be handled.
What do you put in a Will?
Your will determines where your possessions will go, as well as the terms of which they will be given. For instance, you wish to give money to minors; you can state that a trust is set for them, and the conditions of the money’s release, as well as your executor, who will carry these terms out. You can also distribute physical assets. If you have prized possessions that you specifically want to give to someone, you can say so in your will, even simple keepsakes that are important to you can be passed on to those who will appreciate it. You can also state what will happen in case your beneficiaries are not able to claim your inheritance.
Are lawyers necessary?
The hesitance to approach lawyers is always there, as we know they can charge an arm and a leg to get things done. But when it comes to all of your assets, it is best to talk to a lawyer. Not only can they help you draft a will that will prevent opportunists from looking for loopholes, but they can also help you with the financial aspect of this, such as inheritance taxes for your recipients. They can also steer you in the right direction on how to reduce the taxes or the best ways to ensure that all your assets will be protected and taken care of. They can also serve as executor for your trusts and oversee other matters that need legal advice.
How is a Will written?
Here is a short guide to writing your will. Make sure you consider consulting a lawyer, to ensure that what you have drafted will protect you and your loved ones and that all legal documents you have, such as titles, etc., will not have loopholes that would void your final wishes.
1. Lawyer up, or do your research. You need to finalize if you are going to DIY your will, or if you will require a lawyer’s help. Keep in mind that your will is a binding legal document, and if written badly, can cost your heirs thousands of dollars and a lot of problems. So if you can make your will, make sure it’s ironclad.
2. Who are your beneficiaries? Think of everything you have, and who you think will appreciate and benefit from it. Are you worried about your spouse? Is there a disowned child you want to keep out from getting any of what you own? Do you also want to give your collection of stamps to your buddy who collects? What about your car? What about your timeshare? Don’t forget about your country club memberships or your rental in Miami. Think of anything and everything you would like to pass on and put them in your will. Charities close your heart can also be assigned in your will.
3. Who will execute your will? An executor is a person who will make sure that your final wishes will be respected and followed. While you can assign this role to a trusted person and friend, it may cause problems among your beneficiaries. Most would advise a third party executor, like a bank, or a lawyer. They know the law better than you do, and they can help your family with dealing with taxes, fees and other aspects we cannot foresee.
4. Will the executor get something? If your spouse or child will be executor, maybe not. If you are asking a lawyer or a bank, then maybe arrange for a fixed rate. Will it be a per hour payment? Will it be a one-time fee? Is it going to be a percentage of the total or a fixed amount? Be specific to protect your money from going to the executor.
5. Who gets what? Be specific. Don’t just say “the kids get the cars.” You know they will be fighting over which car they will get. Also, remember those you explicitly do not want to receive anything from you. Not being mentioned can simply be claimed as forgotten, especially if you have a medical condition that involved memory loss. Mention those you do not want to get anything. And for those who will be getting items, be specific as well. Say something like, “child A gets the money because they need it, but child B takes the property in Hawaii because I know how much he loves to travel.” Remember that your will is also a final message of sorts, so a few words explaining why you are giving them what will help them understand things as well.
6. What if minors are involved? If your kids are minors, then assign guardians in the event of your and your spouse’s death. Be sure to ask the person you have in mind, as they can refuse to accept guardianship of your children. If that happens, the court will assign guardians for your children.
7. What else can you put in your will? Aside from your assets, you can also attach some letters to your will. They can be goodbye letters to your loved ones, simple or funny messages, or explanations about your inheritance that you want to keep private. In the event of assigning guardians to your kids, you can write a letter on how you want them to be raised.
8. Is the will private? While your will is private, you will need witnesses to sign your will. This is proof that you were of sound mind when you wrote this, and that nothing you wrote was made under duress. Your lawyer can help explain why it matters. And it does, because people can contest your will, and any error and incorrect signature there can make your will void. It can be as simple as signing in the wrong line, or a simple typographical error.
9. Where do you keep your will? It should also be kept safe but where it can be easily found when you die, like banks. Make sure someone who will be around will know where it is. It would be pretty pointless to go through all the hardships of making a will if no one knows you kept it in the shoebox under the stairs in your basement, right? Make sure it is safe from fire, theft, water, etc.
10. Is my Will final? Your will becomes final when it is duly signed, and after you die. If you made your will when you were 30, then you can change or update your will as time goes by. Ideally, update your will when you have additional kids, or get married, get divorced, separated, if you buy more assets, come into more money or any significant changes to your life. If you’ve made an enemy out of your best friend, then amend your will, so he doesn’t get your fishing boat. It won’t take you too much time, and even if it does, it is worth every minute spent making sure that everyone gets exactly what you want, and to make sure that your final wishes be respected and followed.
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