Guidelines for Making a Will

by Rob Jennings J.D.
Making a proper will is key to the distribution of your assets upon death.

Making a proper will is key to the distribution of your assets upon death.

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You can't take your property with you into the next life, but with a proper will you can direct what happens with it when you leave this one. A well-planned and executed will is essential to achieving a desired asset distribution upon death. Carefully considering key points can help ensure that your will does what you want it to do when you die.

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While you can draft your will on your own, it is unlikely that anyone will scrutinize your work until you die. As such, any mistakes you commit in making it will probably go unnoticed until it becomes too late for you to correct them. Consider enlisting the help of a licensed attorney to ensure that your will complies with all aspects of state law. Consult with an estate planner, CPA or other financial professional to minimize taxes and maximize the percentage of your assets that actually go to your heirs.


Carefully consider whom you want to remember in your will. Although state law may restrict the extent to which you can cut out certain people, as a general rule you may bequeath assets to any person or organization you choose. Consider which of your children or other family members are likely to waste what you leave them or lose their inheritance to creditors. In deciding who gets what property or how much of it they get, consider the emotional impact of the gift not only on the person who receives it but also the people who don't.

Nature of Your Estate

The composition of your estate will influence its disposition upon your death. If you will be leaving behind a great deal of property in terms of land, business interests and personal property but little cash, your heirs may need to sell certain items to pay estate taxes and satisfy any outstanding debts you may have when you die. An estate comprised mostly of cash and funds in bank and investment accounts, on the other hand, may have sufficient liquidity to pay taxes and debts without selling important assets. Review your assets with your estate planner to determine whether the nature of what you have will influence the disposition you seek to achieve in your will.

Disposition of Your Estate

Although considering your beneficiaries and the nature of your estate is important when making a will, it is equally important to consider how to distribute the value in your estate to those beneficiaries. While bequests of specific property are common, some testators choose to have everything they own sold and the proceeds of sale distributed among named heirs in specified shares. If your heirs are spendthrifts or have judgments docketed against them, you may wish to consider leaving your estate in a trust and naming the spendthrift or judgment debtor as a beneficiary. If you have certain items of real or personal property that you absolutely want distributed to certain people, you may want to specify an order in which estate property is sold to pay taxes and debts.