List of What Should Be in a Will

By Beverly Bird

The purpose of your will is to explain exactly what you want to happen with your property and how you want to provide for your loved ones when you die. These are unique concerns because no two families are exactly alike, so wills aren't one-size-fits-all documents. You can customize yours to address all that's important to you, but most people include a few common provisions.

The purpose of your will is to explain exactly what you want to happen with your property and how you want to provide for your loved ones when you die. These are unique concerns because no two families are exactly alike, so wills aren't one-size-fits-all documents. You can customize yours to address all that's important to you, but most people include a few common provisions.

Naming an Executor

Someone has to make sure the terms of your will are carried out. This is your executor, the individual who will guide your estate through the probate process and make sure the proper distributions are made to your beneficiaries. If your estate is particularly large or complex, you can appoint a professional to handle the job, such as your bank, a lawyer or an accountant. A professional is typically entitled to compensation from your estate. If your situation is relatively straightforward or you just don't want to involve a stranger, you can name a friend or family member as executor. You might want to make sure that whoever it is gets along with your beneficiaries to save everyone headaches and hard feelings down the road.

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Your Property and Gifts

Make a list of everything you own, then cross off assets that do not require probate to pass to beneficiaries. These usually include things like life insurance or retirement plans that pass directly to named individuals by contract or real estate that you hold with someone else as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Determine who you want to give your remaining assets to so you can make specific bequests in your will. Some testators leave their estates to beneficiaries in percentages – you might dictate that your spouse receives half of everything and your children share equally in the balance. These terms belong in your will, and making them clear-cut can streamline the probate process.

Disinheriting Certain Individuals

When you die without a will, the state decides who gets your property. When you write a will, you don't have to leave your property to anyone you don't want to receive it – with one glaring exception. You typically cannot disinherit your spouse unless you have a prenuptial agreement stating otherwise. If you try, she can reject the terms of your will and the court will give her a statutory share of your estate instead. This can affect your remaining bequests, leaving less for others. If you want to disinherit someone, confer with an attorney to make sure you do it correctly. In some states, it's helpful to specifically mention in your will that you don't want a particular person to inherit.

Providing for Your Children

If you have minor children, you can include special provisions for them. You'll probably want to name a guardian, or someone to care for and raise them in your stead so the court won't appoint someone you wouldn't have chosen. If you leave them inheritances, a conservator must be appointed to manage their money or property until they reach the age of majority. You can name the same person to fill both roles, but you may not want to. Someone who's good with managing money might not be equally gifted with children. Another option is to create a testamentary trust in your will. The terms of your will can direct that your executor form the trust and move your children's share of your estate into it. This still requires naming someone to manage the trust – a trustee. He can distribute money to them or their guardian on a schedule you determine in your will, or you can give him discretion to do so as necessary.

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How to Make a Will with Beneficiaries

References

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How to Get a Will

Many people postpone writing a last will and testament on the assumption that the process is time-consuming and expensive. While tax planning and legal assistance benefit large or complex estates, form wills often work well for simple holdings. Form wills contain the bare bones of a last testament; you fill in the blanks to personalize the document. Few states regulate the contents of devises, but most provide strict statutory requirements for how to sign the will. With a well-prepared form will, you "get a will" in one afternoon.

How to Create a Will in Massachusetts

To create a will in Massachusetts, you follow much the same procedures as you would in any other state. You must ask yourself certain questions and consider certain issues, such as who your beneficiaries will be and who you would like to appoint as your executor. If you are at least 18 years of age and of sound mind, you can make a will in Massachusetts.

Can an Executor of an Estate Distribute Gifts From a Trust?

An executor is to a trustee what a cat is to a dog -- they’re both animals but different species. Executors and trustees are both fiduciaries, but they’re different kinds of fiduciaries. One works under the direction of the court to settle your probate estate while the other deals with assets you’ve placed in trust. Your executor cannot distribute gifts from your trust unless you named her as both the trustee of your trust and your estate’s administrator.

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