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Starting and Writing a Will: What You Need to Know

March 14, 2018 by Cheryl Proska in For Individuals, For Professionals

If you have assets of any kind, or dependent children, it’s a good idea to have a last will and testament. The problem is a lot of people cringe at the thought of creating the legal document. But preparing a last will and testament isn’t difficult.

Why you need/want one

There are several reasons to create a last will and testament:

  • It ensures your estate is divided the way you want it to be.
  • It makes it easier, and less costly, for your Executor (your appointed representative) to sort out your estate.
  • Without a will, your estate will be divided in a matter dictated by the law, which may not be the way you’d prefer your assets be distributed.

Is a last will and testament the same as a living will?

It can be easy to confuse a living will with a last will and testament, but the two are very different.

A living will is part of an advance directive. It is a document that outlines the medical care a person wishes to receive should they become unable to communicate their preferences themselves. The living will is effective while you are still living and is primarily used during a terminal medical condition.

A last will and testament, on the other hand lays out the plan for how an individual’s assets and estate will be divided after their death.

The focus of this article is on the process for creating a last will and testament.

Getting started

When creating a last will and testament, consider the help of an estate-planning attorney. In addition to walking you through the process, an attorney can help to ensure your will is completed in a legally-binding manner.

Hiring an attorney to aid in the creation of a last will and testament doesn’t have to be an expensive process. It’s possible creating a will with the aid of an attorney could cost less than a few hundred dollars, if your estate is relatively simple and not extremely large.

Just be sure to ask for a few quotes from different attorneys, as the fees charged by different law firms can vary widely.

An INTERVENTION ASSOCIATES PROFESSIONAL CARE MANAGER can also help you get the process started and guide you along the way.

Should you decide to do it alone, there are online products to help you create a will. However, if you do go this route, it’s wise to have the will you create reviewed by an estate attorney to make sure everything is in order according to your state’s specific laws (which some software programs may not account for).

Questions you’ll want to answer

When preparing a will, there is a series of question everyone will want to answer:

  • Who will be the executor? An executor is the person you designate to carry out the directives of your will. For most married people, this is a spouse. But if you’re no longer married, it can be a child, sibling, other family member or a friend. It is extremely important that you designate someone you trust. It may also be important to designate an alternative executor, in the event your primary executor isn’t able to carry out your directives. (Tip: Before you select an executor, talk with the person to make sure they’re willing and able to carry out your wishes.)
  • Who will be your beneficiaries? Again, this is normally your spouse, followed by your children, siblings and/or friends. But you can designate other beneficiaries as well. Just be sure you clearly identify who your beneficiaries are so there’s no ambiguity or confusion around your wishes or their identities.
  • What assets do you have? Think real estate, bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, vehicles, jewelry, heirlooms … anything of value.
  • How do you want to divide those assets? You can elect do divide your assets to certain individuals in percentages. For example, you can elect to give your spouse 50% of your financial assets, and have one child receive 25% and another child receive the remaining 25%.

Depending on the state you reside in, you may need to have a notary and/or witnesses sign the will. An estate attorney can tell you what’s required and what’s not.

In addition, you want to make sure you create a will while you’re still of sound mind and body. Otherwise, a court could question the legality of the document.

One more thing to consider

There’s one final thing you’ll want to consider in the process of creating a will: dependent children. If you have dependent children, you’ll want to designate a guardian if:

  1. they’re of the age in which they still require one.
  2. they have a disability that prevents them from handling their own personal and financial affairs, even when they become adults.

This is critical for parents of young children. If you do not designate one, a court may appoint one for your child, and it may not be the person you would’ve chosen.

Conclusion

Thinking about our own mortality is never easy; it can bring up different emotions. However, planning a will does not have to be. It is a practical way to bring order to your final wishes. Having the support of a professional care manager and an estate attorney helps make this process much easier and supportive.

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