Your will contains your instructions as to how to distribute your property after you die. While your state's laws regarding intestate succession--distribution of an estate when someone dies without a valid will--might contain nothing that conflicts with your wishes, the only way to exert any kind of control over the future of your hard-earned property is to prepare a will.
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Do-It-Yourself vs. Attorney Assistance
Cost issues and the availability of relatively inexpensive forms for purchase online often lead people to prepare their own wills. Unlike surgery, making mistakes in doing your own legal work will not lead to death or serious physical injury, and every state allows an individual to represent himself in all legal matters. With a will, however, any errors you make likely won't appear until you die and can no longer correct them. Attorneys frequently prepare simple wills for a few hundred dollars. Depending upon the complexity of your estate and your degree of comfort with doing your own legal work, you may find your local general practitioner worth her fee.
Naming an Executor
Your will should contain an appointment of an individual to administer your estate under your will. This individual, called an "executor," should be someone in whom you have complete trust and confidence. While an executor can be any competent person of your choice, many people choose adult children, siblings or spouses to be their executors. You can specify that your executor be allowed to serve without bond, reducing the costs of administering your estate and leading to a quicker disposition of your affairs. Check with your intended executor prior to naming him to ensure that he is actually willing to serve.
Guardianship of Minor Children
If one parent of a child survives another, the surviving parent automatically gets custody of any minor children unless her parental rights were previously terminated by a court. If both parents die, however, disagreements among the parents' respective families can flare up over who will raise the decedents' children. Although courts will usually appoint the next closest blood relative, leaving important decisions regarding the future of one's children to a stranger such as a judge or clerk of court is not a good idea. If you have minor children, appoint a guardian to take care of them until they reach the age of majority. If you wish, you can appoint one person as guardian of the children themselves and another as guardian of the property you leave to them.
Beneficiaries are those entitled to share in your estate under your will. Although individual state law may limit the degree to which you can cut certain individuals--spouses and children--out of your will, as a general rule you may leave your property to the person, educational institution or charity of your choosing. Ensure that your will identifies your beneficiaries and their specific share with particularity. Identify individuals by name and their relationship to you. Including information sufficient for your executor to identify your beneficiaries reduces the costs of administering your estate and makes administration quicker.