Writing a last will and testament is always a difficult undertaking. If nothing else, it requires you to confront the fact that you won’t always be there for your loved ones, and you need to plan for what will happen to them when you are gone. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when you are writing your will, to ensure you don’t leave your loved ones with unnecessary problems.
What do you own?
This may seem like an obvious point, but when you are writing your last will and testament, you should have a good idea of what you own, and thus what will need to be distributed by your will. You don’t need to be exact (for example, you don’t need to know exactly how much money you have in your bank account at any given time), but your will does, at least, need to indicate what you want to do with your money and property clearly enough that the executor in charge of administering your estate can readily understand what you mean. You should also periodically review any assets you have that contain specific beneficiary designations, such as insurance policies and retirement accounts, because distribution of those types of assets are not controlled by a will unless you name your estate as the specific beneficiary of that asset.
Who do you want to inherit your things?
Again, this may seem like another obvious point, but once you know what you have, you should figure out who you would want to have your property. Make sure to be thorough about allocating your property, because anything you don’t designate to a specific heir will, instead, be divided based on the general residuary clause in the will. You do not have to make specific gifts. It is convenient and acceptable to leave percentages of your estate to your beneficiaries (for example, an equal twenty-five percent to each of your four heirs).
Who don’t you want to inherit your things?
By default, anything you don’t specifically designate as an inheritance for someone else will, instead, pass on pursuant to the residuary clause. You can choose which of your next of kin to include in the residuary clause because you are not obligated to include all of your next of kin. If there are certain members of your family you definitely do not want to get your property, you can disinherit them.
Is your will up to date?
It is surprisingly common for someone to make a last will and testament relatively early in their life, and just leave it that way for years or decades afterwards. This results in wills that may reference property no longer in the deceased’s possession, omit property that the deceased has since acquired, or which grant inheritances to people the decedent no longer associates with (or who are, themselves, no longer alive). Such wills may also fail to take into account the decedent’s subsequent marriage or if they later had children. Thus, it is important not merely to write a will, but to periodically review it to make sure it accurately reflects the current family situation.
Who do you want to administer your estate?
To be effective, your last will and testament must name an executor who will administer your estate. This can be one person, more than one person, or an entity such as a bank or brokerage company whom you trust will appropriately pay your final bills, gather all of your assets and distribute your assets as you have directed in the will. The executor does not have to be your spouse or your closest next of kin, but ideally the executor should be someone you believe is capable of doing the job without creating unnecessary conflict with your beneficiaries.
Planning your estate is a complicated process, and one you should not do alone. The attorneys at Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney, P.A., will help you put together an estate plan that is right for you. Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org (or use our contact us form), and we will reply as quickly as possible. You can also reach us by phone at (973) 256-0456.