intro: No one likes to think about his or her own death, but you can't afford not to. In addition to thinking about life insurance, there’s also the matter of creating a will. It’s a good idea to be educated and prepared on end-of-life financial requirements so any money, possessions or debts you leave behind are distributed exactly the way you expect. Follow these tips to avoid common will-writing mistakes and make sure your possessions, finances and loved ones are taken care of properly after you’re gone.
quicklist: title: Understand the Process text:
There are several elements that go into forming a sound estate plan. It’s a good idea to learn the basics of making a will. Every state has different rules about what makes a will legal and who can write one. It’s important to be clear about the requirements and find out what a will does, what to include, any limitations, how many witnesses you need, who can serve as witness and whether the will must be notarized.
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While it may seem easy to do yourself, the professional guidance of an attorney will ensure you are interpreting the law properly and creating a legal document. Wills are complex and require precise wording, so work with a lawyer who is experienced in estate planning and death taxes to draft this important document.
quicklist: title: Select Witnesses and Executors Carefully text:
The people that know your will’s contents and must carry out your final affairs after your death must be trustworthy. Putting the burdens of settling your estate on people who are not up to the task could result in a mess for your heirs. It’s also a good idea to have a backup executor in case the person you originally designated dies before you or is otherwise unable to serve as executor.
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quicklist: title: Include the Small Stuff text:
Most of your bigger assets like a home or bank account automatically go to your partner or children. Retirement accounts and life insurance policies have beneficiaries attached to them. As long as these assets are properly assigned to the people you want to inherit them, you should focus the will on property or accounts that belong solely to you. Consider establishing a trust and include sentimental belongings so nothing falls to intestacy or state inheritance laws. This also hopefully prevents fighting among family members about what you intended.
quicklist: title: Tell Someone Where It Is text:
Since a will's instructions can be followed only if it can be found after your death, it’s important to inform your executor or family members where it is stored. Some government agencies and most law firms offer a will bank service to protect your will from fire, theft or damage.
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Perhaps the best and final tip is to remember to revisit and update your draft regularly and especially when any circumstances change (i.e. marriage or divorce). While it may seem depressing to plan for your demise, leaving behind a will is important no matter what your age or economic status.
Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.