What Is Involved in Making a Will?

by A.L. Kennedy
Consult loved ones when considering what to put in your will.

Consult loved ones when considering what to put in your will.

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Your will is a legal document that explains how you want your property distributed after your death. If you have minor children, your will may also explain how to provide for them in terms of guardianship and finances. When making your will, consider such issues as whom you trust to carry out your last wishes and/or raise your children, as well as which people or charities should receive your property when you die.

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Your executor, or personal representative, is the person who will be responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will when you die. He or she will pay the estate's remaining debts, distribute your property to the people you wish to have it and defend the validity of your will in court if someone challenges it. Although your personal representative can be any competent adult, you should choose someone you trust and who agrees to take on the job once you are gone.

Guardian or Conservator

If you have minor or disabled children, you can provide for them in your will. For instance, your will can name an adult to serve as their guardian if both parents are gone. In most states, you can also name a conservator, or a person who is responsible for ensuring that any money you have left to pay for the children's care is spent wisely. The guardian and conservator may be the same person or two separate people. Like your executor, you should choose a guardian and/or conservator whom you trust, that your children like and who is willing to take on the responsibility.

Distribution of Property

In most states, a valid will must contain at least one phrase that distributes some article of property to some person. The property can be money, investments, real estate or personal items, and you may leave it to anyone you choose, with some exceptions. For instance, most states will not allow you to cut your current spouse out of your will entirely, according to the American Bar Association. Although your will does not have to distribute all of your property, you may wish to ensure that it does. Any property your will does not cover will be distributed according to your state's laws, which may not reflect your wishes.

Backup Plan

When you make your will, you rely on your best guesses about who will still be around after you are gone. However, it is possible that the person you have named as your executor, your children's guardian or one of your beneficiaries may die before you do or may suffer an illness or injury that leaves that person unable or unwilling to do what your will asks them to do. Therefore, it is wise to name a contingency, or backup, executor, guardian or conservator, as well as to state what should be done with your property if one of your beneficiaries cannot receive it.