4 Questions to Consider When Making a Will

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You may think that only the ultra-wealthy need to have a will. But if you have children and own assets (real estate property, investments, etc.), it’s a good idea to leave behind clear instructions on how you want your family to be taken care of and how your assets should be distributed after your death.

These topics can be difficult to think about, but planning ahead allows you to convey your wishes to your family and loved ones, which could help minimize confusion and potential conflict.

1. What is a will?

Broadly speaking, a will is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets to be handled and distributed when you die. 

If you don’t have a will in place when you die (or “dying intestate”), your assets will pass based on the laws of your state. However, leaving these decisions up to the state means that your possessions may not be handled in accordance to your wishes. This is why creating a will can be so important.

Because everyone’s situation is different, the contents of a will can vary from person to person. That being said, there are four basic components to be aware of:

  • An executor: the person who is going to oversee and execute the plan you’ve laid out in your will, and this is typically someone you trust to carry out your wishes.
  • Guardianship: the individual(s) who will become guardian of your dependents.
  • Beneficiaries: named individuals (or organizations) who will inherit your possessions.
  • Disposition of assets: instructions for how you want your assets to be divvied up – basically, who gets what and when. Assets could include real estate, personal property and financial accounts, such as bank accounts or investment accounts.

2. Can you create your own will or do you need an attorney? 

You have the option to make a will online. But it’s a good idea to work with an attorney, especially if your situation is complex. For example, people with children and considerable assets may find it helpful to work with an estate planning attorney who can help navigate state tax laws.

Estate planning attorneys can also help draft other important documents that you may want to have in addition to your will, such as powers of attorney and a health care proxy.

Be aware that each state has its own laws and requirements for properly executing wills and power of attorney documents. This is another reason why you may want to consult an attorney as you’re preparing your will.

3. If you’re a parent, who will become guardian of your children? 

If you have children under the age of 18, you’ll need to name a legal guardian. 

When it comes to guardianship, you'll want to tap someone you trust – someone who will raise your children in a way that's consistent with your values. Also think about the age and health of your potential guardians and make sure they're financially able and willing to take on that role for your children.

4. How do you want your remains to be handled?

You may want to consider including a letter of instructions conveying your wishes on how you want your remains to be handled. For example, do you want to be buried or cremated? You can also outline your funeral service details.

Once you have your will and other estate planning documents in order, keep them in a safe place and let your loved ones know where they’re kept. That way they’ll know exactly where to find them if something were to happen to you.

You may also want to sit down with your family to go over your wishes at some point. This can be a difficult topic to bring up, but keep in mind that planning ahead helps ensure that you have the final say in how you want your affairs to be handled.

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